Why Do 3-Year-Olds Still Chew on Everything?

by Shara JJ Cooper

You probably can't wait until your tot stops putting everything into her mouth. It would be nice to not have to worry about finding your engagement ring in her diaper and for your books, cups and small items to be safe from her teeth. When it's your 3-year-old that's causing the damage, you may feel like it's never going to end. However, the end is probably just around the corner. Some children just take a little longer to pass this milestone.

1. Teething

While most children get their last baby teeth when they are 2, some are late teethers and don't get them until after their third birthday. As you know from all the teeth that came before, chewing helps the teeth break through the gums. You can ease your toddler through this by giving him cold cloths, teething toys or crunchy food like carrot sticks or crackers to chew on.

2. Early or Late Weaning

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until "2 and beyond." This means many moms don't wean until their toddlers are closer to 3. Even though your child wasn't chewing on the breast (hopefully), chewing can still satisfy the oral fixation she may have developed. This is also true of babies that were weaned early, according to EarlyInterventionSupport.com. This also happens when children are weaned from the bottle or pacifier early or late. Feed healthy, crunchy snacks at snack time and give her safe toys to chew on until she outgrows the phase.

3. Oral Stimulation

Some kids may just enjoy the oral stimulation chewing provides. The habit will usually start to disappear as she gets a bit older. You can help your child stop the chewing by redirecting the symptoms. Give her things that stimulate her oral senses, like blowing through straws or blowing bubbles. Special toys designed for older children that need to chew are also available. They often come in appealing shapes, such as alphabet shapes or chewable necklaces. You can also give your chewer food in a variety of textures to give her the oral stimulation she craves. Snacks like celery sticks, carrots, cheese and pretzels have a different feeling from gummy food like gelatin, candy or licorice, for example.

4. Intervention

Most chewing habits disappear after your child has finished teething, which is usually right around age 3 for late teethers. However, some medical conditions can cause children to chew, too. Don't panic -- your child has mostly likely developed a habit that she will outgrow. But, hypothyroidism can cause delayed teething, which can cause a child to chew on things. Conditions like ADHD and autism can also cause children to chew because it fulfills a sensory need for them. If your child chews on everything, keep her distracted and eventually the habit should fade away. If the problem is ongoing, you'll need to talk to your doctor to see if there is an underlying medical condition. This is particularly true if you see other signs of trouble, like problems focusing, chronic fatigue or hyperactivity.