So you’ve got a biter on your hands? Or a kid who is chewing up their shirt sleeves and collars? Have they practically bitten through wood and steel? It may be time to take a slightly different approach. I’m not promising an overnight miracle, but a holistic strategy that takes into consideration the entire child can be beneficial. Sensory integration dysfunction is sometimes the root problem, and a whole body approach may just curb your biter.
1. Get Moving! Movement is one of the most effective filters for organizing sensory input and lowering stress levels that can cause chewing or biting. Consider a regular after school activity, exercising as a family, yoga, biking, sports, gymnastics, or hiking. I especially like sports that include the heavy use of the hands.
In addition, consider some heavy work activities like chores, which not only encourage heavy work but also contribute to being a part of a living, working family. You can also bring movement into the school day or homework period by offering movement breaks or having your child use a ball chair to move and wiggle. Provide an obstacle course in your home or turn on some music to get everyone dancing.
Play games like Simon Says or juggle scarves or beanbags with your child. Eye hand coordination can be helpful too in calming the stress as it challenges the brain. Even a game of catch can reduce the need to bite and chew.
2. Handy Helpers. Get their hands busy. Try using putty, sand or clay. An art activity is great for heavy handwork but so is cooking! Bake bread or cookies and really get their hands into the batter. If they won’t touch batter, start off with just encouraging your child to manipulate a bowl of flour.
Got a box of old tools? Have your child dump it out and organize it. You will find them manipulating the pieces with their fingers. In addition, exercise is great for the hands: chin ups, push ups, wheelbarrow walking and handstands are my top picks.
3. Oral Motor Workout. Try thinking of ways to use the mouth appropriately and encourage those activities. Provide crunchy foods and snacks like apple slices, celery and carrots. Sing out loud with your child. A microphone can really encourage out loud vocalization.
Grab some bubbles and have them blow. Provide a straw and encourage sipping and blowing (bubbles, cotton balls, tissue). Have a wind instrument? A harmonica or kazoo are quite cost effective and encourage humming and vibration. Vibration along the mouth can minimize the need to chew. Try a Z-vibe or electric toothbrush.
4. Use Weight. Weighted items can be very calming and organizing for the brain. Try a weighted lap pad, weighted blanket, weighted neck pillow or some weighted balls. These can be used during homework, reading or as a sensory break.
5. Choose a Chewy. For those times when your child just needs to chew, provide a tough durable chewy or some chewing gum. Use it in intervals and right before or after mealtime. It will stir up the digestive juices needed for a healthy appetite and get the jaw ready to work.