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Hitting, Biting, Chewing and Licking

Date added: 12/04/2014

excerpted from multi award-winning Raising a Sensory Smart Child (2009) by Lindsey Biel, MA, OTR/L & Nancy Peske

Hitting and biting are common behaviors among many kids with Sensory Integration dysfunction. Not only does smacking up against or biting his brother let a child with sensory problems express his irritation, it gives him plenty of deep pressure and proprioceptive input that he can control, and it may be very calming to his system. To stop your child from hitting and biting, you need to teach him impulse control and frustration tolerance, and give him lots of input that will prevent him from feeling the need to hit or bite in the first place.

Indeed, some children with sensory processing problems hit or bite even when they aren't angry. They may be unsettled because a child is sitting too close to them, or upset by the amount of noise in the room, or they just may need some sensory input, and they respond by striking or biting another child.

If your child needs to hit, give him plenty of toys and objects he can hit throughout the day: musical instruments such as drums and keyboards, a therapy ball, punching bag, sofa cushion, beanbag chair, etc. If he needs to bite, give him safe items to chew on, such as Chewy Tubes, teething toys, or crunchy or chewy foods that don't turn mushy in the mouth such as fruit roll-ups or bubblegum (in fact, if your young child is biting, it mayt be a sign that he's hungry).

If your child injures another child, give the attention to the other child before dealing with your own so as not to reinforce the negative behavior. Then give your child a time-out (if age and developmentally-appropriate, and redirect him toward something he is allowed to hit or bite.

Inappropriate Chewing, Biting, and Licking

Parents expect a baby to mouth, chew, and bite things. If your older child still chews, bites, or licks things or people he shouldn't, recognize that these are sensory-seeking behaviors. Give him acceptable items to chew, bite, or lick, such as Chewy Tubes (plastic hammer-shaped chew toys), Grabbers (plastic tubes with handles), and Chewlery (coiled, chewable jewelry).

Crunchy snacks such as pretzels and carrot and celery sticks are also appropriate substitutes. Do not let your child chew on cuffs with buttons or the ends of pens or pencils for safety reasons (a Chewy Pencil Topper placed on the end of a writing utensil is a safer alternative).    

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