My eleven year old son has an unusual need (compulsion?) to chew; to have something in his mouth -- piece of plastic, gum, hard candy, plastic game piece, and so forth, a lot of the time.
Upon reflection, I believe this has been an issue since birth (breast fed and pacifier use until age 1, then to the cup). I have always noticed this behavior, but now am becoming concerned because I find chewed pieces of plastic on a regular basis where he has been in the house. He admits to the act and has no reason for doing it - other than it is a habit. I feel this chewing or need to chew is worsening.
My concern is amplified because of earlier issue with a behavior he exhibited: At age 8 1/2 until age 9 1/2, he would periodically pull out some of his eyelashes. Never were all of one eye's lashes pulled, but periodically a section would be pulled out on and off over the course of about a year. However, with behavior modification strategies working with a child psychologist from age 9 to 9 1/2, this behavior stopped. Although one time after working with the child psychologist, he did not pull eye lashes, but a small section of hair-- not noticed until a hair stylist pointed it out to me during a haircut. This was a one-time incident and now for almost two years, the lash or hair pulling has not happened/not reoccurred. My husband and I check his eyes/hair w/o drawing any attention to our checking by looking when he is asleep or informally when we are engaged in an activity, like reading together. This time period of age 8 1/2 - 9 1/2 was during the time of a major move from one state to another, and the new school system was not as accelerated as the one we left (meaning, he complained of being bored in school or "I already know what we are learning in school") and anxiety was assumed to be the cause. He stated during this time that the pulling of the lashes was not a problem in his mind, and he didn't even realize he was doing it. As parents, we never said this behavior was 'wrong', but that we wanted to help him understand why he was exhibiting this behavior.
I am not sure if I needed to provide that background information about a previous behavior since I am concerned now about a new behavior - chewing on things; however, a more complete picture of him and his behavior patterns are now presented - if helpful, great; if not, please dismiss.
He is an excellent student and also excels at sports. He is a popular child and has several friends (mostly through school or sports since our neighborhood does not have many children his age). He would tell you that he does feel as if we (parents) have high expectations for him and he feels pressured to do well.
I hope I have provided sufficient information for you to provide feedback. Is this chewing something I should be seeking medical attention? Or, is this an overreaction on my part? Any advice or guidance you can provide will be valuable to me.
You likely do not need to seek any specialized intervention. The chewing behavior is most likely a means of tension reduction, and it occurs automatically - i.e., it isn't as if your son deliberately contemplates the action. He does it by rote. You might try to encourage him to figer 'woeey beads' or use a squeeze ball as an alternative to placing things in his mouth. The trichotillomania you observed when he was younger is a type of impulse control disorder that often is associated with stress or tension.
Your son has a nervous habit, similar to biting nails, or playing/twisting hair. Adults have oral fixations also - gum, tobacco, food, candy...Not a big deal- but like I said, this is a "nervous" habit- why's he nervous? If he says that he feels pressured by your high expectations (and this is huge that a child is able to express his feelings so clear), maybe you as his parents need to talk to a counselor about ways that you can reduce this pressure on him. Behavior modification on your son, as with the eyelash thing, is fine, but if he's still having nervous issues, maybe you need to stop trying to "fix" him and instead look at the family dynamics that are influencing his behavior.
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