It’s natural to wonder when you notice a behavior in your child that may seem odd, compulsive, or confusing. But is chewing on clothing anything to worry about? And how can you get them to stop? The good news is there are plenty of ways to save their clothes and help them feel better.
Why do babies chew on their shirts?
Babies will often chew on anything in sight when they are teething, and the top of their onesie is many times the easiest (or only) thing in reach. This is normal and usually goes away as their teeth pop out. Chewing on toys, fingers, clothes, and just about anything while teething gives their gums some comfort and relief. Teething usually takes place from around 4 months to 2 years old.
It’s also developmentally expected for babies to mouth many objects (including blankets and clothing) as a form of discovery. They’re learning awareness of their mouths and tongues that will lay the foundation for those first babbled syllables. Once they can grab (around 3 to 5 months old), they’ll often make a beeline for their mouth with whatever they pick up. They’re using the sensory nerves in their mouths to figure out textures, tastes, temperatures and learn about the world around them.
Whether teething or mouthing, babies will usually grow out of this behavior by 3 years old.
Why do kids chew on their shirts?
If a child over three is still biting their shirt, it could be because of several possible reasons.
- Chewing is a fidgeting behavior to help them focus.
- Chewing reminds them of eating, which relaxes them.
- They could have a dental issue that’s bothering them.
- They have pent-up physical energy, so they are engaging in a small physical movement.
- They have weak jaw muscles and are strengthening them.
- They may have a condition called Pica where people (especially children) eat non-food items.
- It could be a sign of a sensory disorder or anxiety, and they are chewing for sensory calming.
As always, check with your pediatrician or pediatric dentist if you’re concerned.
How do I get my child to stop chewing their clothes?
With teething babies, redirect them to an appropriate teether. Have several around your home, so there’s always one in reach, and consider putting some in the fridge or freezer to help ease their pain. You can also clip teething toys to their shirt so that they can pick it up even if they’ve crawled elsewhere or dropped it while in their high chair. Make sure to wash and sanitize teethers in between use.
If you think the reason is sensory instead of comfort for painful gums, there are many sensory toys that could scratch that same itch. Look for silicone toys shaped and sized to avoid choking hazards that have interesting textures and are easy for little hands to grab.
For older children, try to notice a pattern on when the behavior happens. Is it when they’re nervous? Hungry? Trying to concentrate? That will give you clues as to why the shirt-chewing is happening, and then you can find a solution from there. If they do it when they’re hungry, then it’s snack time. If they’re trying to concentrate, offer a fidget. If they’re anxious, talk about what’s wrong and try breathing exercises. More physical activity may also help in general.
Ask your child if their teeth hurt and other clarifying questions to see if you can determine the cause. It may be as simple as offering something else to chew on like dried fruit, gum, or even an oral sensory chew toy. Many options exist, including “chewlery,” like a necklace with a pendant made of silicone or another material they can chew on. (Never use a necklace on a young baby or toddler since it is unsafe.)
Babies and children will often outgrow this behavior, but it could be a sign of autism, anxiety, or other conditions if they don’t. You can ask your pediatrician for screening and support to ensure they’re given all of the treatment and resources they need.
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