The Boy Who Bites

When I first started my Facebook page, I asked what people wanted their children to learn and I read all the responses very carefully. I noticed several parents talking about their child biting, licking, putting things in their mouth inappropriately.
As it turns out, I’m having a similar problem with my little guy.

Charlie has always used his mouth more than he should. When he was very little, he used it when his vision wasn’t helpful. This meant that he would often lick something up and down, but the neurologist assured us it was fine.

Well, we’ve worked diligently in the mouthing area, but then Charlie developed a new and terrible habit–self biting.

Let me say that I don’t even want to talk about this. I HATE that he does this. HATE it. For me, it’s like he’s wearing a badge that says “mentally unstable.” I feel like I do a decent job at accepting the things that I cannot change, but I this doesn’t seem like that.

It started when he was refluxing. We went through a period where he was out of his Slippery Elm and I guess biting provided some sort of relief. Now, he bites as a stress reliever. Loud room full of people talking? Bite. Stretching? Bite.

So, I’ve been reading and researching and asking the professionals.

Some kids put things in their mouths for more sensory input. This is what Charlie was doing before. As they age, it’s best to offer them appropriate outlets. You can encourage them to feel with their hands or give them something appropriate to put in their mouths. Some of the website even suggested fashioning a necklace out of a chewy material if a child is a mouther. No one mentioned gum, but I wonder if this would help with older kids.

For Charlie, however, it seems to be a frustration relief. I read a story about a girl who clenched her jaw in frustration and actually broke her teeth. I clench in my sleep and have had more than one trip to the dentist as a result. The goal doesn’t appear to be self-injury since he never breaks the skin.

The recommendations from both the therapist and the neurologist has been to redirect. So, we’ve been keeping a multitude of chewy toys around and at the first sign of frustration, we hand it to him. This has helped a lot. I’d love it if he were never frustrated, but sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to–that’s just a sad fact of life.

I guess I should also add that if he does get into the throws of biting, we rub his upper lip to make him let go. My husband explained that its some kind of pressure point or something. I might not have been paying attention. It works–rub the upper lip.

So there ya go. A rather painful admission (I don’t know WHY I beat myself up about this stuff), what we’re doing about it, and some pictures of Charlie sorting Easter Eggs.
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  1. Felicia Garrett (Briley's Madre) says:

    I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog. Your little guy shares so much in common with mine and you have really inspired me to use some of my old teacher tricks with him. I read yal at least once a week and am always comforted by Charlie and inspired by you. We're dealing with the biting too and the old vibrating toothbrush trick doesn't always work anymore and I suspect that frustration is involved as well. That and teeth grinding are tough to see/hear. If you find any new tricks, I know you'll share! πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for sharing your life!

  2. Well, as one of the people who responded to that Facebook question with the "mouthing" thing… Little Bird sticks everything in her mouth and licks things. I swear, it's amazing she hasn't contracted a staph infection!! I always have chewy tubes and "chewelry" around, things that are safe for her to chew. It's a true sensory seeking thing for her. While it's completely difficult to watch, I do know that it's not only a developmental phase, but also a means to strengthen her jaw and mouth muscles. Still, it makes me crazy!! But, you've gotta have things that are "safe" for chewing because it would suck if she bit other kids at school. After all, in the very wise words of Yo Gabba Gabba, "don't, don't, don't bite your friends!"

  3. Queen Teen licked everything too, especially anything metal. It used to drive me crazy. We'd be at the grocery store and she'd lean way out of the cart trying to lick the shelves! She finally outgrew it around age 6. One thing that helped was giving her a chewy the OT had given us. Was it called a Nuk? It had a firm handle and a soft, nobby end to gnaw on. I wonder if that will help you little boy? He needs to release tension, so maybe giving him something safe to chew on will help until he passes through this stage of oral curiosity.

  4. GingerB says:

    My daughter sometimes grinds her teeth, I tell myself she is just checking out sensations, because I love to stick my head in the sand. My favorite PT pointed out to me that kids with CP use their heads to get hold of stuff, especially if you deal with hemiplegia as we do. I kept seeing Hannah use her head to balance and stabilize when we do stair climbs, now she doesn't as she has become stronger but my PT said he's seen kids who wear bald spots off their heads. Hannah will lean over to get her binky in her mouth without using her hands, and she often casually takes my arm and bites it softly during dinner. I never know what the hell to think. But I bet I don't take her binky away as soon as I might . . .

  5. Oia is very mouthy too…still drools as well. She bites many toys still, especially newer ones and ones she really likes, (I guess she's investigating) and even though she has made TREMENDOUS progress with Righty, her mouth acts as a second hand sometimes still. We just chalk it up to good problem solving! ;0)

  6. Candace says:

    Well, it's good to get it off your chest, right? Some things we can deal with just fine (having a special needs child) but I am sure most of us have a weak spot in our armour.

  7. Elijah's self-biting drives me insane. INSANE. I hate it too (he does break his skin). Oh, and he puts his mouth on everything. I don't stop him from putting things in his mouth because that's a fairly new skill for him (unless of course, putting said object in his mouth would be unsafe), but it's the putting his mouth on everything that I try to discourage… I'm only mildly successful. πŸ˜‰ Anyway, thanks for writing about it even though it is painful.

  8. I'm glad you're finding solutions. I'm sure it's not just frustrating for Charlie but also for you. Good luck!

  9. Miss Burb says:

    we have been trying to resolve this issue for a while now! it went away for awhile and then once the molars started coming in, came back with a vengence. we've tried the chewy tubes and wet wash cloths. we also do the upper lip thing (although it's more under the nose for us). He's stopped biting us but he still bites himself. I finally got him some of those wrist bands that athletic people wear (can you tell I'm not athletic?) because he does it sooo much. but sometimes he ends up doing it on his hand or upper arm anyway.

    I hope he grows out of it. I suppose there are worse things he could be doing, but still. Biting is a huge source of stress for us

  10. pixiemama says:

    Foster has done bitten himself in frustration off and on since about age 2. Chewies help, but … I know what you mean. It's downright disturbing when it's your child.


  11. ParkerMama says:

    On 5MFSN I have so many parents asking about their kids chewing fingers, biting themselves, etc.

    I wish I had the answer to this one. Parker's bit OTHER people a few times. But each one of those times was a clear try to communicate frustration.

  12. ferfischer says:

    Let's see – my oldest typical kid bites himself when he's mad, one of my twins, the typical one, bites other people, and my special needs twin grinds her teeth and she can't control it, in her sleep, especially, and is so orally averse that she will chomp down on anything in her mouth and you can't get it out! I just can't handle so much oral stuff! ugh!