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Ethology pendant on a bed of sand

How can chewing help my child?

When we can see that our children are becoming overwhelmed, it can be a sign that the nervous system is in flux with sensory input which their brains cannot easily organise. If we think about when we ourselves are anxious or stressed, we can observe that we may chew on our fingernails, gum, or pen top. Although these activities may seem benign, there is a reason why we do this. That is because these actions engage part of the sensory feedback system known as proprioception. Proprioceptive input has a calming effect on the nervous system because it decreases how we respond to other sensory input by helping organise these inputs within the brain.

 

But how do we get proprioceptive input? The proprioceptive system is activated through nerves in our muscles and joints and gives us an understanding of where our limbs are and how they are moving. When we engage in “heavy work”, activities that use our joints and muscles, such as running, jumping, pulling, or lifting, we activate our proprioceptive system.

 

The challenge of course is that it is not always appropriate to be running or jumping in order to achieve the required proprioceptive feedback. This, therefore, is why activities which engage the mouth and jaw are so great for calming the nervous system. The mouth is the most sensitive part of the body, containing forty percent of the body’s sensory nerves alongside muscles, joints, and tendons which support the jaw, meaning it can be used to achieve proprioceptive input that is both discreet and effective for self-regulation.

 

We want to advocate for children to be stewards of their own sensory and emotional regulation. We are not trying to dissuade from chewing behaviours, because we recognise that children need this at times and should be encouraged to help meet their needs independently and safely.

 

However, if you are concerned about your child’s development or sensory needs, we highly recommend seeking a paediatric occupational therapist for further input and advice. These highly trained professionals are adept in recognising sensory processing disorders and their input can be life-changing for children and their families.

Harry smiling while chewing ethology pendant
Harry chewing and pulling ethology pendant
Harry biting on the Ethology pendant

What is Proprioception?

Do you have a child with additional needs? Are you interested in understanding how using our sense of proprioception can help emotional regulation when your child seems overwhelmed? This video can explain how!

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