Blanket Eating when to Worry

Children are very oral creatures. From birth their greatest comfort is to be held close and nursed, and it is a satisfaction that we never quite grow out of. Even as adults, we often overeat, smoke, and chew gum. It should be no surprise then that children suck their thumbs, put any number of items into their mouths, and chew fabric. It’s a way of exploring their world and comforting themselves.

Growing up, my little brother had a thing with chewing his shirt collars. It frustrated my mom to no end as he didn’t have any shirts free of holes. She scolded him and spanked him, even removed privileges, all to no avail. Actually, it may have aggravated his chewing obsession. While many children have absolutely no chewing tendencies, the parents of those that do want to know what causes this behavior and how to stop it.

Blanket chewing seems to surface or worsen around five or six years of age, when children are ready to get their six year molars. Much like a teething infant, it feels good and the counter pressure is soothing to the child’s sore gums. Some children even ask for a chew toy around this time. If a child is chewing due to teething pain, you can use some Oragel type medicine on his gums to help the pain. You could get him a small toy or some fabric that they could chew on, making sure to wash the articles often, since anything moist and warm is a great target for bacteria growth.

Fabric chewing could also be attributed to the child’s effort at self-soothing if the child has experienced something traumatic such as beginning school, losing a family member or pet, moving, or in rare cases, abuse. If this may be the issue, it is better to ignore the behavior itself and talk to the child about what is bothering them, or even seek a good play therapist to help your child work through their issues.

Irregardless of what may have been the cause, how do you know when the chewing is reason to worry? In the vast majority of cases, blanket eating will resolve itself with little to no intervention, usually within a year or so. In rare instances, however, the behavior may become a real problem, harming social interactions and cause problems with normal jaw development. If you are worried about the chewing, take your child into the doctor and see if there is any physical cause. Your trusted doctor should be able to tell you if you should be worried, and even have some ideas to help curb the behavior.