Chewing & Sucking on Clothing

Archived Q&A and Reviews

4 year old is chewing on his clothes

May 2010

Our 4 year old son started chewing on his shirts about 6 months ago(till his sleeves and neck are completely wet).It started when he was a litlle nervous I think but now it's non stop.Well even take his shirts of at home and now he start likking his arms.Does anybody has same experiance or know how to stop this?? chell

My four year old has done this on and off for the last 6 mos.. We've had some changes and stressors in teh house, so I think that it tends to be when he is anxious, nervous.. and he is highly sensitive. It also happens at school more, and one of his best buddies is no longer his buddy... so think it tends to be when he's going thru a difficult change. I don't have much advice other than I try to get him to talk about what's bothering him in a creative way or distract him... anon

i took my son , who was chewing holes in his shirts, to a neurological chiropractor,Dr. Serge Azzolino in SF. Dr. Azzolino showed me that when my son's eyes moved a certain way his jaw automatically started to chew. It's a neurological immaturity. After one chiropractic treatment my son stopped (although to be fair I think that my son was also making a conscious effort to stop and doing the treatment made him serious about it). If you google Serge Azzolino you will find the address/phone number of the clinic. Azzolino was recommended to me by a behavioral pediatrician who told me he really knows brains. I would take your son to him partly because it would be good to find out if there are other things Azzolino would notice. Ball sports are supposedly also great for maturing the developing brain. another mom

My five year-old started this entering kindergarten and according to a child development book I read, nervous behaviors like this are common at this age. We tried several things to help stop this. (He did it for a few months and finally tapered off.) We talked to him about it and about how it ruins his clothes and makes his clothes all wet which will make him cold and uncomfortable. We also bought tons of Trident sugarless gum (they have lots of different fun flavors) and at home whenever he started chewing on his shirt, we offered him gum and that worked really really well. For school, we bought him a chewable bracelet and necklace which he used for a short time: Gum was more successful, but not allowed at school. He eventually stopped after a few months, although I'm not sure if it's because of our efforts or he just grew out of it. It happens on rare occasions now and we offer him gum. Andi

Very common for children with sensory or anxiety issues. An occupational therapist would probably reccommend getting him a special chew necklace to help him direct his need towards something more appropriate. Look up the search terms ''sensory chew necklace'' on google. You might want to have him assessed, so if there are any other issues, they can be addressed early-the earlier the better. I have a kid with special needs and was also a preschool teacher so I am familiar with this behavior. Good luck! Knows about chewers

Oh, that was my son in his kindergarten year! It's so hard to watch. Yes, it definitely is anxiety -- can you think of what might be causing all this stress? For my son, it was a no-nonsense, no-fun kindergarten team (2 teachers) and many troubling social things (being bullied, stress of kids acting out and not managed well by teachers), and even anxiety absorbed from the teachers who were so tense.

It did resolve itself on its own as the school year ended and he had better teachers in future years. We learned to pay attention to signs of his anxiety. He is less easy - going than some kids, but not really anxious either -- just a bit tense. Think about ways you can support your child through stressful times and it will pass. Get help if it doesn't resolve itself -- kids can really benefit from some outside therapy if they are not able to manage their anxiety. been there!

4 year old chewing on clothes

Dec 2007

My 4 year old son has been chewing incessantly on his clothes for a few months. He chews his sleeves and the necks of his clothes so much that his shirts will be sopping wet. He is a normal, happy, active boy and we haven't had any emotional events during this time, so I have no idea where it came from. I have tried ignoring it, gentle reminding, and I am sorry to say, exasperation. Nothing has worked. It is really gross and I am desperate for him to stop. Anon

My son also went through this. It drove me nuts! As it turns out, he cut two teeth within a few days of each other shortly thereafter. After the teeth came in I felt terrible that I hadn't done anything to help him manage the pain. He never complained, (classic 2nd child behavior, just managed it himself) he has a fairly high tolerance for pain. After the teeth came in, the dentist told me to offer him a wash cloth or something he could chew on next time. It worked. He stopped chewing on his clothes (at least at home). I didn't trust sending the chew cloth to school as I could only imagine him cleaning the desk, the chalkboard... and then chewing. We just used the same clothes whenever he went through the phase. Here a hole, there a hole

My almost-five year old has been chewing on his clothes, sucking fingers, licking the kitchen counter tops (and anything else smooth) for months. He never sucked his thumb or anything like that as a toddler, it just started at about 4-and-a-half or so. Apparently it's common- I've even heard of kindergarten/preschool teachers who make beaded necklaces for these oral-types to keep their mouths busy. It grosses me out a bit, but I have to remind myself that it's his way of releasing nervous energy and it's relatively harmless. Tammy

3 year old sucking on her clothes

October 2006

My 3.5 year old daughter recently changed preschools and has started sucking on her clothes (sleeves, dress hems, etc) and sometimes her fingers. Other than brief pacifier use as an infant, she hasn't been a sucker until now. Whenever I see her at school, however, she has something up at her mouth.

Her best friend at school, whom she's known since she was a baby, is a committed finger sucker. I suspect that this is part of the problem.

The behavior also seems to be related to a shyness response or insecurity. I've noticed that it intensifies when someone is talking to her, or especially when someone wants to take her picture. She is quite shy with new people, but generally warms up within 30 minutes or so. The behavior does not seem to wane when she's at school, though.

I was a hair sucker as a kid, and it was painful when people would nag me about stopping. But I also didn't like that I did it, and would love to spare my daughter the same self- consciousness. I'm hoping that since this behavior has just started, I can ''nip it in the bud,'' but I don't want to hurt her either, and nagging her about it is not good for either of us.

I'm not quite sure what to do, and I'm looking for advice about whether to intervene, and, if so, how. Thanks
reformed sucker

I have a 10 year old who did the same thing, and he still does. We tried EVERYTHING to get him to stop - spices on the shirt collar, positive rewards if he stopped, etc. In the end, he never did and it's such a problem now. I really wish I'd stuck with it earlier, because now he has braces to correct the problem and still has oral fixations. I could have been more diligent, or one thing that probably would have worked better was to let him chew on other things. That did work, and an occupational therapist gave him a leather necklace to suck on, but we really felt he needed to break it altogether. No perfect answer, sorry! I just hope you get it under control sooner, especially before the adult teeth come in. Good luck!
Mom of a shirt sucker

My son did the same thing when he started a new preschool. He sucked and chewed on his clothes and fingernails. He is also shy at first, but warms up fairly quickly. The sucking and chewing stopped within a few months. It returned, although not as bad, when he started another new preschool. On the teachers advice, I ignored it, but did try to help him overcome the shyness by helping him meet more kids in the class...
fellow mom

Of my three children (all card-carrying thumbsucker/blankie kids) two of them went through various stages of sucking or chewing on their clothing. It drove me nuts and ruined a few shirts but we tried really hard not to nag them about it. Many gentle reminders and lots of crunchy carrots later they have both entirely given it up. Technical term is ''tensional outlet'' - very common
Chewy's mom

Hi. I missed the original post, but wanted to chime in. Many kids at age three are tremendously oral - the mouth has so many neural connections - putting things in our mouths is very calming and organizing. Think about when you thread and needle - your mouth forms an ''o'', or when you see basketball players shooting hoops - they often stick their tongues out, bite their lip, etc. Or, when we are stressed, tired, etc. we often reach for food/drink/chew nails etc.

Some kids easily move out of their oral phase, others hold on to it much longer - has to do with how their sensory system is wired and yes, it is mortifying to have your kid wandering around at age 11 with a soaked shirt, chewed up sweatshirt strings etc. (which happened with one of my daughters). As irritating as it is, especially when your child is younger, try to provide appropriate outlets. Chewy or crunch foods (thick pretzels, celery, turkey jerky etc.) sour foods, sucking thick things like smoothies or applesauce through a straw, chewing on a straw, etc. all can help. Some kids may need something like think rubber to clamp down on with their back teeth, a chewy necklace etc. If they are too old to be doing this in public, they could come home and chew to their hearts content while hanging out, doing homework etc. - it will help them to focus.

Kids will also go in phases of needing oral input - transitions and stress will definitely cause things to re-emerge. If your child is older, you can try to help them remember not to chew their shirt by providing a fidget, such as a twisty on their wrist. Every time they go on automatic and are about to chew, they look at their wrist and fidget instead. Some sort of reward system for coming home with dry shirts really helps too - but you need to be sure and provide other appropriate oral outlets. Plugging in physical activity will also decrease the sucking

Also, your child will not necessarily have dental problems with sucking. It depends on whether they are tongue thrusting while sucking. Hope that helps. This too shall pass

My 4-year old does this-it drives me crazy! (: She has always put stuff in her mouth, no matter what we tried to get her to stop it, including ignoring it. She seems not to even notice she's doing it. The funny thing is she was never very into a pacifier and gave it up for good at around a year. It also doesn't really seem to be connected to being nervous or shy or trying to get attention or anything like that. Lately we've really been trying to get her to stop, but it doesn't seem to have any effect; in the end I guess it's a pretty small problem to have! Maybe it's hereditary; her dad used to smoke and is a compulsive gum-chewer. No answers for you, just noticing that paying it attention doesn't seem to do any good.
Another Chewy's Mom

4-year-old chewing on his sleeves

January 2003

My son, 4 and a bit, has developed a habit of chewing on his sleeves fairly frequently. I haven't noticed any particular trigger for it, though it happens when he's nervous/in a new situation as well as when he's sitting around at home. He also bites our couch pillows and occasionally his little brother (1 year old), usually when provoked. We have tried giving him teething toys which he uses sporadically, and working on communicating his frustration with sibling verbally instead of physically, which he is pretty good at. Any experience with this kind of thing out there, parents of fours? I read the posts but they seem to be about younger kids. Thanks, Edith

i think this is just something some kids do. i have several nephews that did this until nearly 6, and have noticed my 2.5 year old starting but with necks of t-shirts. i think that it's most likely a way to diffuse nerves that becomes habitual. at least that is what i've observed. they do outgrow it with maturity. anon

I remember my son's friend in 2nd grade, years ago, standing in the playground every day after school chewing on his overalls strap or the collar of his T-shirt till they were soaked and twisted. The kid is a sophomore at Stanford now. (Hmm .. maybe if MY son had chewed ...) Anonymous

My daughter just turned 4 last week and spent and hour while we were at Disneyland chewing on her sleeve. My husband and I definitely noticed and made a comment between ourselves. Later my daughter said the a small area of her gums were hurting a bit. Who knows what that is. My 7 year old has done the same thing off and on since 4 now that I recall. If not a sleeve, a blanket, even a earphone cord (unbeknownst to me at the time). It seems like for whatever the reason they are chewing, they want to chew on something familiar as opposed to a chewing toy. Short of your 1-year old being chewed upon it sounds fairly normal to me. Mary

7-year-old chews on his t-shirts and everything else

Nov 2003

My 7 year old son chews everything. Mostly his t-shirts, sometimes couch strings, whatever he can find. This never bothered me much, but it bothers his teacher. Last year she gave him a straw to chew on each day. This year she's called in an Occupational Therapist who gave him a special necklace to wear. I'm trying to figure out if this is something I really need to worry about or not. I've worked with kids for years, and my head says no big deal, but when the teacher starts worrying, your gut kicks in with worries. I know she personally finds it a gross habit. We've tried different things in the past to get him to stop, but I'm convinced he's going to chew. I am concerned if he has nervousness he's not expressing. He's generally a little nervous, as am I. But I've never thought it was a problem before. Is it worth getting him assessed? I'd love some advice on this one. Thanks! Worried (nervous?) mom

Wow! YOU ARE NOT ALONE!! When I read your post out loud to my husband, he asked if I was the one who wrote it. Like you, I have a son (first grader) who chews on everything from his t- shirts to his toenails, pencils to paperbacks. And like you, I am perplexed as to why or if it is as problematic as his teacher seems to think it is. Unfortunately, I don't have any answers right now but I am working to get to the bottom of it. I do think that certain teachers make more of a big deal of it so I'm nowhere near convinced it is nearly as dire as you are led to believe. Still, it is hard to be nonchalant when you hear this stuff from a teacher.

I know a lot of younger kids chew their way through preschool and no one thinks too much about it. Is there a point is it becomes a problem that requires therapy? I doubt it -- if the child is otherwise well-adjusted. I would be happy to ''chew the fat'' with you and compare notes as this is something I'm trying to digest as well. Please send me an email if you are interested in talking. Thanks! cw

Boy, did this message resonate with me. I've been fretting over constantly telling my 9 yr old to stop chewing her hair, her sweatshirt sleeves, her necklaces, ANYthing. Today on the way home in the car, after I told her for the nth time to stop chewing her hair, I suggested that we get a chewy necklace or teething ring kind of thing. I was astonished that she thought this sounded like a good idea. She really does seem to have some kind of organic NEED to chew stuff. But I said that hair and clothes got really stinky, and other things could damage her teeth. We went to the grocery store and she picked out this teething package (from the baby area) of a rubber hand and foot. (we'd had this same one, nine years ago!) She has not let the thing out of her sight, and is now chewing away (on the purple foot) while watching a video. I am not quite sure I can see her bringing this thing out in public, but it does seem slightly more aesthetic (is it?) than hair or clothing. It doesn't smell bad, anyway. Anyway, I don't know if I've just traded one bad habit for another, but for better or for worse, here we are. Thanks (I think!) for the suggestion. Anon