Elliedue asks:

My almost 5 year old daughter is a chewer! She chews everything cloths, hair, plastic you name she chews it. I can't stand it it drives me crazy!Help

In Topics: Physical Health
> 60 days ago



Wayne Yankus
Mar 16, 2011
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What the Expert Says:

Children her age who chew non food items have pica which is a term used in medicine. first thing to do is see her pediatrician and have her tested for lead.  That element is often high in chewers and will effect learning.  Second, have your pediatrician suggest a behavioral therapist to extinguish the behavior since it is dangerous to her health.  Take action.

Wayne Yankus, MD, FAAP
expert panelist: pediatrics

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Additional Answers (1)

Hand in Hand
Hand in Hand , Teacher, Caregiver, Parent writes:
Almost all of us struggle with understanding and helping our children when they do things we don’t understand. Here are some guiding principles for understanding and relieving your daughter’s aggression, so and she can relax and enjoy your time together.

When children lose their sense of connection, they feel tense, frightened, or isolated. In this “emotional emergency,” they may lash out at other children. This could take the form of aggression, or in your case, chewing on everything.

Children get these feelings of isolation, no matter how loving and close we parents are. Children acquire fears from a difficult birth, medical treatments, family tensions, the unhappiness of others around them, and from the absence of loved ones.

The chewing can’t be erased by reasoning, Time Out, or enforcing “logical consequences.” The knot of intense feelings inside the child isn’t touched by rewards or punishment. A child’s behavior out of her control, once she begins to feel disconnected.

Step one in helping a child is moving close and offering a warm connection. Then, listening helps heal the hurt. The child will either laugh or cry, and might tremble, perspire, or struggle mightily. The adult provides a safe connection and the time the child needs to release the fear she feels. The crying and physical struggling and perspiring she does get her limbic system—the part of her brain that sounds emotional alarms when she feels frightened—back in working order by providing an outlet for those unmanageable feelings.

Here are some simple steps you can follow that may help.
Know yourself and your child

Ask someone to listen to you while you talk about the feelings you have about your daughter’s actions. Hurtful behavior kicks up lots of feelings—fear, anger, guilt—that freeze our warmth and make us react in ways that frighten our child further. Talking to a good listener, and offloading your own feelings, will prepare you to help your child.

Observe. Under what conditions do the child's fears overtake her? Is it when Mommy has been at a meeting the night before? When there have been arguments at home? When other children crowd close? When left to play with a sibling in a separate room? Generally, you can come up with a good guess as to when your child might lose her sense of connection and take in out on the clothes, hair, plastic around her.

Don’t fool yourself. Give up the hope that "this time it might not happen.” Mental preparation is important. If your child bites you suddenly when you're doing rough and tumble play, then every time you play this way, be mentally prepared for biting to occur.

Do a friendly but attentive “patrol” to catch the behavior as it rises.

Prepare for chewing by staying close by. Move close enough to be able to reach the child quickly, should it begin.

Stop the behavior, then Staylisten

When you have stopped the aggression, connect. Give the upset child eye contact, a warm voice, and kind physical contact. She needs some sign that it's safe to show you her feelings. You can say things like: “I know you don't feel good,” “I'm right here and I'll keep things safe for you,” “It looks like things are hard right now,” “Please tell me about it,” “No one's mad at you,” or, ”I want to stay with you right now.”

Encourage her to come to you when she's upset. Children don't do this easily when they carry a big knot of tension, but offering the idea that you want her to ask for help indicates the direction things will go in over time. After many cries she will have released some of her fears, and she will be more likely to run to you for help rather than chewing toys when she doesn’t feel connected.

All in all, remember that a chewing child is a frightened child. Something has happened to frighten her, and she’s managing as best she can. She’s waiting for someone, possibly you, to move in close and ask her what the matter is, to listen, and to tell her she’s a good child even when she feels bad.

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