Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Eat Your Shirt

Mitchell, my seven-year old son, has what I consider to be a nasty habit. He chews on the collars of his shirts. Yesterday before he went to school, I had the following conversation with him:

Me: "Mitchell, I'm giving you this shirt to wear today. Do you notice that the collar is completely free of chew marks?"
Mitchell: "Yes."
Me: "Will it still be like this when you get home from school today?"
Mitchell: "Yes."
Me: "Okay, buddy. I'm counting on you to leave your collar alone today, okay? I love you."

End of conversation.

Well, when Mitchell got off the bus after school and walked into the house, the first thing I noticed was his shirt collar. Not that I was purposely checking that out the minute he walked through the door, but it was kind of hard not to notice. The collar had a piece chewed out of it about 2 inches by 4 inches in size. This is the biggest "hole" he's ever made in his shirt! I was flabbergasted. When I asked him about it, he smiled and said, "I couldn't help it." He said sorry and that was about it.

Later that evening I informed Mitchell that if he continued to chew on his shirts, he would have privileges taken away, namely, the ability to drive the new kid's quad 4x4 which we bought on EBay recently. We are expecting it to arrive this week, and I know that he will be very upset if he's not allowed to drive it.

Today Mitchell's shirt for the day began free of chew damage. He himself told me that he was not going to chew his shirt at school today, because he doesn't want his quad privileges taken away from him. When he got home from school . . . no chewing! I didn't think it would be possible, but apparently he's more aware of this chewing habit than I thought. I was thinking he was doing it without thinking, which he probably was to some degree, but he managed to make it through the day without destroying his collar! I am so proud of him!

This morning I researched this topic on the Internet, and confirmed my suspicions about what the underlying cause of this behavior is: stress, anxiety, fear. What he's doing is considered a "tensional outlet" (other examples of this include hair-chewing, nail-biting, sucking on clothing). Even though Mitchell appears to be confident and secure, I suspect that deep down inside, he isn't. He just started at his new school in January, and I think, despite how well we've been led to believe he's adjusting, internally it's not going as well as it appears. The advice from the child psychologist on one of the sites I visited said to ignore the behavior and it will eventually self-remedy. My talking to him about it and nagging him apparently will make it worse. However, she did suggest, for an older child, to use a rewards system as incentive to quit. I think my consequences for him chewing on his shirt sort of fits that suggestion; I'm not going to make a sticker chart or anything like that . . . I'm just going to keep praising him on the days he makes it without chewing, and reward him with riding the quad or with whatever else seems appropriate at the time.

So, anyone else out there have a similar struggle with their kids chewing or sucking on their clothing? Do you think what I've got set up as incentive to quit is appropriate for a seven-year old? What would you do in this situation? Ignore it? Take him to the doctor? Implement another plan? I'd love feedback.


Chris said...

No ideas Kim, sorry. I'm sure it's frustrating in the "keeping your kids in respectable attire" department.

Apart from trying to hide any hulk or hideously ugly superhero shirts (some are decent), my issues have not reached this threshold yet.

I'll pray for some progress and ideas. Prayer will top any psychoanalysis any day. :)

Krystal said...

Well, this isn't just my kid's experience, but my experience as well. :) When I was younger I chewed on my nails. My mom tried everything to get me to stop, but to this day, I still chew my nails. I see my daughter Erika starting to do it to. I'm not sure if its because she sees me doing it, or if she feels insecure as well.

Dari-Lynn said...

I think you should keep doing what is working. If use of the quad is incentive for him, why not? I use the tv with my daughter, and it works.

Mel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mel said...

Sorry I posted and then thought more about it.. :)

I was a shirt sucker and for me it was really about insecurities. Of course I didn't know that but looking back I can totally see that and when our middle son Justin started a similar habit. I really tried to talk to him about when he feels like he needs to chew on his shirt. For our son, it was right after p.e. and he told me one day he noticed his shirt was wet and he was thirsty and so he thought he would get some water from it. :) HA it was his sweat! YUCK.... so when I explained how bad it was we went out and bought a cool water bottle for him to put in his book bag and WHA LA ! Habit gone! :) Sometimes it is that easy to end..

but for me.. it was a bigger issue.. finally though I did get over it..

You know Kim.. my mom had to have noticed and I'm sure she asked me about it but she never scolded me.

Keep up the good work though! Sounds like you have found the one thing to help Mitchell chose not to chew on his shirt.

Man, how do any of us survive childhood? When you stop and think about the changes kids have to endure it's a miracle any of us come out on this side of SANE :) .... :)

I'm sure he'll out grow it sooner or later :)


dazy222 said...

I have an 8 year old with the same issues. He has ruined several shirts from chewing holes in them. It is very frustrating. I'm sure he has insecurities and I can relate to him in that way. He is my middle of 3 boys and seems very sensitive and speaks loudly. I think some of this is middle child typical and I try to spend extra one-on-one time with him which he thrives on. Unfortunately, that opportunity is hard to come by as I work full-time and we are constantly going to the kids extra-curricular activities. Other than that, I'm not sure what to do but, just knowing I'm not alone in this help. God Bless! Brenda

Janealane said...


My 8 year old son does the same thing. He seems to be getting worse everyday. I have taken him to talk to a councellor. She said it is due to nerves and offered him the suggestion of using deep breaths to relax and a journal in which to write his thoughts. Great suggestion, but he just doodles in his journal and forgets to breath. I have tried getting him to take big breaths at home, and I've also tried giving him hand and feet massages to relax him.

My husband and I are finding it difficult not to comment. We keep taking away priviledges when we see him chewing. So far, this type of discipline is not working.

I do notice that we are on his case a lot. He is very sensitive and very bright, but sometimes seems a little clueless. He doesn't pay attention to the road, and I have to contantly yell "CAR" to get him to pull over or stop when a car drives up the street when he is riding his bike. He also climbs everthing in sight, and has broken limbs off our baby tree in the front yard. He loves to play on the computer making slide shows, doing research, and playing games, but he can't seem to get off when we ask him to. It usually takes him at least 20 minutes and when he does get off, he is very upset because he wasn't finished doing what he wanted to do.

I believe his chewing might have something to do with us nagging him all the time. I just don't know how to stop. I can't let him ride his bike without supervision or he might get hit by a car. I can't let him have unlimited time on the computer because he needs to be doing more physical activities and he needs to socialize with friends. I don't want him to continue to chew his shirt because he won't have any shirts left to wear that aren't damaged.

I have just order my son some chewlery. I'm hoping that he will stop chewing his collars and chew the chewing necklace instead. We'll keep working on the anxiety issue by communicating every day and by continuing to massage his hands and feet.

Just wondering if your son has stopped chewing.