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Is It Normal for Children to Gnaw on Their Shirts?

by Ruth Amick, studioD

Children sometimes engage in habits that cause their parents to become alarmed, or even just plain annoyed. Gnawing or chewing on clothing is one of the common habits that your child may be using to serve a developmental need, most likely bringing comfort to him. This habit can go away on its own with time, or in some cases, lingers for years in children with special needs.

Problems With Focusing

Some children gnaw or suck on their clothing as a way to help them to focus. Ask her teacher if she seems to be having trouble concentrating on a subject in school that she struggles with. At home, too many distractions might make it difficult to stay on task with her homework. Provide your child with extra assistance on subjects she has problems with in school, and make sure she has a quiet space for homework time. As her ability to focus improves, her gnawing habit should soon disappear.

Tension, Frustration and Anxiety Issues

Some children chew their clothing as a reaction to negative feelings like tension or frustration. Your child may use this behavior to calm himself, rather than resorting to a tantrum or aggression, like hitting or biting. Perhaps he has been suffering from anxiety because he is being bullied by another child, or because he is not comfortable in social situations. There are many reasons for tension related habits to arise. Look for clues to explain your child's shirt gnawing, but do not nag him to stop doing so.

Energy Overload

A child who has pent-up energy because she spends a lot of time sitting still can sometimes develop a habit of chewing on clothing. Encourage outdoor play by taking your child to the park regularly, taking daily walks with her or signing her up for a sport that catches her interest. Spend time in your yard together gardening or tossing a ball back and forth.

Tooth Pain

Your child may gnaw on his best shirt due to experiencing mouth pain. A toddler or young child with new teeth coming in might find the pressure of biting on clothing to be of some relief. Look for excessive drooling and chewing of other items, as well. He could have a cavity in one of his teeth, or even a toothache throbbing from infection. Paying a visit to your child's pediatrician or dentist will help you discover whether there is something in his mouth that prompts him to chew on his clothes.

Special Considerations

If your child has been diagnosed with autism, she may have sensory disorders, making her sensory perception different from that of the average child. Sensory processing disorder sometimes causes a child to be hyper-responsive to her environment, making her extra sensitive to sight, sound, taste and touch. A hypo-responsive child would be much less sensitive to all stimuli, therefore making it more likely that she would chew on clothing or other items because she cannot feel sensations adequately. You can purchase toys and jewelry made specifically for children who feel the need to chew such items. This will help ensure your child doesn't choke or ingest something toxic while gnawing on materials like her shirt.

About the Author

Ruth Amick entered the world of publishing in 1987 as an editorial assistant at "Cycle Magazine." She was also editorial assistant at CurtCo Publishing for "Audio/Video Interiors Magazine" and "CarAudio Magazine." She wrote a senior home health care newsletter for 10 years and enjoys writing on pet and livestock care, health, antiques, travel, gardening and relationship issues.

Photo Credits

  • Ciaran Griffin/Valueline/Getty Images