How Do I Stop My Child From Chewing Everything?
Some children chew on blankets, others a toy, and others dirt. It's common for children to chew something non-edible in their lifetime. But how can we stop them from doing this before it gets dangerous? Here we give you some reasons why this happens and how to help!
What are the dangers of eating random items?
Why do autistic children do this?
Tips To Help
Children have a very different perception of learning than we do. They are incredibly curious which may lead to a child putting random items in their mouths. For example, a battery to us is something that powers technology like a flashlight, to a child however it is something they have no understanding of.
As well as this, autistic children with hypo-sensitive taste tend to put random items in their mouth as it sparks their senses. They may like to mouth on non-edible items such as dirt or playdough, this is known as pica. This is concerning, as a child may end up putting something in the mouth that is harmful, or end up choking.
What are the Dangers of Eating Random Items?
Eating non-food items can lead to many serious health problems. The official term for this is called Pica. Pica can cause many health implications such as:
- Stomach pains/discomfort
- Bowel problems (Constipation, Diarrhoea, Blood in stool)
- Lead poisoning
- Intestinal tearing or blocking
- Injuries to mouth and teeth
Eating any non-food items can cause any problems above to happen. In some serious cases eating non-food items has caused death. Unfortunately, the disorder is very common, affecting up to 30% of young children ages 1 to 6 (Patel, 2021). Also, according to UK Addiction Treatment Centre (2019) adults and children with learning difficulties are between 4% and 26% more likely to develop pica in the UK. Whilst autism is not a learning disability, around half of autistic people may also have a learning disability according to Mencap (2022).
Why do Autistic Children do this?
Its common for young children to eat or mouth on random items. Whether its a blanket, toy, crayons, playdough... especially if they are teething. We've all done it as children, as im sure our parents can attest!
However, it is sometimes hard to understand why pica takes place. Researchers have found various reasons as to why children put random items in their mouth. It can be because:
They are very curious & still in early learning development
They have hypo-taste. This mean they may find flavours dull or not be able to taste at all. This may lead them to eat or mouth on non-edible items as a way of trying to spark that sense.
They are hungry or have low levels of nutrients- children with iron or zinc deficiency may eat dirt or rocks.
They are stressed. Hypo- and Hyper-sensitivities as well as autistic burnout can cause stress for autistic people, especially young children. This could lead to them chewing on non-edible items as a way of coping.
They are neglected or abused.
Tips To Help
Creating a safe environment
An easy way to reduce pica is by creating a safe environment. By this we mean making sure small non-edible items are out of reach of children, so they don't get tempted to eat them. It's also beneficial to keep non-edible items your child tends to mouth on (such as playdough) out of reach, and only your child to use them when there is supervision.
It is also good to make sure your child is eating a healthy balanced diet so they are getting the necessary vitamins and nutrients. This can be difficult if your child has hypo- or hyper- taste. Check out our blog on hyper- & hypo-sensitivities for some ideas!
Stress is a major contributor to pica. So it's good to create a loving environment where your child feels safe. This could involve making some changes to your home. Such as replacing bright bulbs with dimmers if they have hyper-sight or replacing strong scented items with non-scented to reduce overwhelming your child's senses.
It can also be beneficial to create a safe place for your child to go when they are feeling overwhelmed by their sense or feeling autistic burnout. This could be a sensory den with all their favourite sensory items, such as a weighted blanket, a scented soft toy, and fairy lights.
Explaining Non-Edible & Edible
A good way to stop pica is by explaining to your child what is edible and what isn't. If you see your child eating something that is non-edible, stay calm and let them know this is not something to eat. As with learning, it can take a few times before it sticks.
You could also try turning this into a game, by lining up various items of non-edible and edible items. Go through each item asking which ones they think are edible and which ones are not. Give your child a reward for each item they get right. This can encourage them to remember which items they can and can't eat.
One of the major factors for pica in autistic children is hypo-taste. This is where taste is dull or non-existent. Autistic children with hypo-taste may mouth on non-edible items in order to spark their senses. This can be harder to discourage as your child will enjoy chewing on non-edible items.
So, to stop your child from mouthing or chewing on non-edible items, it is ideal to find a safer substitute. A great example for this is chewy jewellery, such as chewable necklaces & chewable bracelets. Check out Sensorii for a range of non-toxic & BPA free chewable jewellery & toys.
Patel, D (2021) Pica. Available From: https://familydoctor.org/condition/pica/#:~:text=Pica%20is%20a%20compulsive%20eating,children%20ages%201%20to%206.
UK Addiction Treatment Centres (2019) Pica: More Understanding and Less Judgement. Available From: https://www.ukat.co.uk/eating-disorders/pica-more-understanding-less-judgement/
Mencap (2022) What is Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Available From: https://www.mencap.org.uk/learning-disability-explained/conditions-linked-learning-disability/autism-and-aspergers-syndrome#:~:text=Like%20a%20learning%20disability%2C%20autism,also%20have%20a%20learning%20disability.