Psychologist Questions Mental Disorders

Why do children chew on their fingers and hands?

My toddler doesn't chew on her fingers or hands, but I've noticed a lot of other kids doing this. Why do kids do that anyway? Is it a mental thing?

6 Answers

I would not worry about it. Most kids chew on their hands due to anxiety, boredom.

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I view chewing on fingers as a manifest anxiety symptom of underlying (unconscious) roots or origins. Thus, it is a displacement of such unresolved issues that should be addressed. Yes, I do believe it is a mental thing.
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The most common explanation for why some children chew is because of stress and/or anxiety. Chewing provides proprioceptive input to the jaw that is very calming and organizing. It’s similar to how some people might bite their fingernails when they’re nervous, or pace back and forth, do deep breathing, rock back and forth, tap their foot, etc. These are all mechanisms for how we cope with stress.

The stress we’re talking about could be everyday stress - when kids are frustrated, mad, or tired. Chewing will typically increase relative to the amount of stress, AND relative to how well children deal with stress. Chewing is inherently calming for kids.

It’s a known motor plan.

There is always something nearby that they can chew on (whether or not it’s safe/appropriate) - a shirt, pencil, toy, something picked up off the floor, etc.

They can also control what goes in their mouth, which is something that many kids don't get to do very often.
Children go through a state of development referred to as the "oral stage of development." During this stage of development children often explore the world around them with their mouths. This is often why children place toys and such in their mouths. Children also tend to chew or suck on their hands and fingers when they are bored in order to obtain a level of sensory input or self-soothe.

Ashley Frantz, PhD240-431-3714
They shouldn’t but there are reasons for everything. Hard to say but it is not normal
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