Q&A: 5 Year Old Started Biting His Shirt Sleeves at School

Tamara GuoBehavior, Challenging Behavior

blockquote_bgMy five year old grandson started kindergarten, he recently started to bite on his sleeves, jacket tie straps and biting on my shirt. He is one of the youngest kids in school and does not do well when kids pick on or bully him, he becomes very passive and doesn’t seem to stick up for himself. Should I be worried, what can I do to help him?

Some children bite, chew on sleeves and clothing due to a sensory need. However, since you mention your grandson just started to do this recently when he started school, it could possibly be due to anxiety as well, and just be a coping/security mechanism for him.

Even though many families think that academic skills are what are most important for school success, social skills play a huge role in school success as well. Sometimes children who are younger than their peers are behind in social skills, hence your grandson’s inability to cope with children picking on him/bullying him. I would start by at home setting up some role playing games with him using his action figures, stuffed animals, or just you & he can role play.

Set up scenarios where one of the action figures or stuffed toys takes his toy or says something bad about him…then coach him on ways he can respond appropriately. Help him learn words for his emotions “fear”, “anger”, “frustration”, etc. Have him talk to you about how he feels when another child picks on him and help him with ways he can deal with it emotionally without chewing on clothing or becoming anxious or scared. This article talks about social skills in 5 year olds.

It would also be a good idea to speak to his teacher right away about this, so she can keep an eye on other children and try to prevent them from picking on him in the first place.

If he still has a need to bite on chew on something and this brings him comfort & security, you can find “chewlery” bracelets that allow the same kind of oral input, but channel the chew/bite to something more socially appropriate than chewing on clothing.

If you feel his chewing/biting might have a sensory component to it you could always seek an evaluation from an occupational therapist trained in sensory processing disorder, but at this point it sounds like his chewing my just be a coping mechanism for anxiety at school.