Why do they do this? Because it feels good. And because it helps them to self-regulate.
Chewing and sucking is organizing to the brain and helps us with self-regulation. Ever catch yourself chewing on the end of a pen, biting your nails, etc.? When do you do this? Usually you will find yourself doing this when you are trying to concentrate or focus.
The deep pressure and heavy work from chewing and sucking tends to lower our arousal state when we are heightened and reduce sensory overload. It can also kick us into gear when we are feeling low energy and need to focus.
Further, occupying a child’s mouth with food or a toy may also reduce the amount of vocalizations, calling out, interrupting and simply help them to be less noisy!
The following are socially appropriate ideas to help meet the oral seeker’s sensory needs:
- crunchy foods (raw veggies and fruit, dill pickles, nuts)
- chewy foods (frozen gummy bears, beef jerky, dried fruit, sesame snaps)
- cold foods (frozen berries and veggies, ice)
- spicy foods (baked chick-peas, seasoned nuts)
- sour foods (lemons, apples with lime juice, cucumber with vinegar, sour candies)
- chew on stir sticks or straws
- hard candies
- sport water bottles (that require lots of suction)
- drink milkshakes or smoothies from a straw (the skinnier the straw, the more work)
- vibrating toothbrush or teethers
- musical toys (harmonica, blow toys/whistles, recorder)
- you can also purchase specialty chew toys, chewelry (pretend jewellery safe for chewing) and plastic pencil toppers
Experiment! Offer a few of these suggestions to your child and see what happens. Use a couple on yourself and see how you feel. Having some hygienic and safe options other than shirt sleeves and dirty objects can save you a lot of headaches in the long run!
Please let me know how it goes!
And as always, remember to be the hero you are meant to be!