It's normal for babies to put everything into their mouths because that's how they learn about and explore the world around them. If it's stopped being cute because your child has reached the toddler or preschool years and still nibbles on her clothes, understanding the cause helps you figure out the best way to put a stop to it. After all, you have plenty of yummy food on hand and your little one doesn't have to subsist on cloth.
For some toddlers or preschoolers, chewing on clothing is just an irritating habit that they've gotten into during certain activities, say watching television or riding in the car. It can also help them focus or release tension, according to the Health Guidance website. If your little one tends to chew her sleeve during daycare drop-off or at the doctor's office, it's likely a response to her emotions at the time. For some kids, obsessive cloth chewing could indicate autism, ADHD or sensory processing disorder. Your child's pediatrician can diagnose or rule out these conditions.
If you bite your nails or twirl your hair, you know how hard it is to break the habit. If your little one has a clothes chewing habit, be patient with her because it isn't going to change overnight. When you catch your child chewing, remind her to stop or distract her with a puzzle or game. Dr. Rene Hackney, developmental psychologist and founder of Parenting Playgroups, suggests telling your child that clothes stay out of the mouth instead of demanding that she stop chewing. If your child has autism or ADHD, her chewing may be a byproduct of the condition and treating it might help alleviate the behavior. For sensory processing issues, an occupational therapist can help.
Why Should I Stop It?
Besides having to replace clothing with holes and stretched-out collars and sleeves, clothes chewing can cause other problems that you'd probably rather avoid. It's gross to see your child walking around with spit-dampened clothes, but it can also make your little one sick. If she rolls around in the dirt or her friend puts an arm around her after having used the bathroom without washing his hands, her shirt could pick up icky germs. It can also damage her teeth if she chews a zipper or button by mistake.
It might seem like handing your dog a chew toy when he's gnawing on the arm of the couch, but some children's toy manufacturers market products for little chewers. They are often plastic bracelets or necklaces that are designed to be nibbled on all day. If nothing else, they can save you from having to buy a stack of new shirts for the third time in as many months. Talk to your child's pediatrician before using one of these products, because failing to treat other conditions, such as autism, can have long-lasting effects on your toddler or preschooler.