In the past three days, I've seen three children that have presented with finger biting/picking until they bleed, wow. So I figured there are probably a few more out there that this information could help. This was specifically written to give to a child's IEP team at school, but the same applies at home too.
Why do kids bite or pick their fingers until they bleed?
The behavior is not so much about the chewing or about the fingers, it’s a way to seek pressure. There are a lot of concentrated nerve endings in your fingertips and in your jaw, which means that when your child is chewing on their fingers they are receiving deep pressure through their fingertips and jaw, which is an attempt to organize their nervous system.
By replacing the behavior with something to chew or something to fidget with their fingers will only make them seek additional input since they're not getting as much “bang for their buck”.
What can we do to stop this behavior?
It would benefit your child tremendously to receive deep pressure/vestibular input (both long lasting/organizing types of sensory input) in a more appropriate manner. Suggestions are:
- animal walks down the hall way (crab walks, bear crawls, snake crawl, frog hops)
- put a piece of stretchy tubing (theraband/exercise band type material) across the front of their chair legs so they can push against it with their legs
- put a foot riser underneath their feet at their desk so their legs make a right angle (this way when they push against the floor with their feet the input is directed through their joints)
- jumping on a trampoline
- doing monkey bars (anything that requires hanging from their arms)
- using a climbing wall (if there's one available)
- push ups
- riding any type of scooter (a flat gym class scooter) while on their belly
- doing an activity with theraputty or playdoh (since this provides pressure through almost all of their fingertips at the same time as well as through the wrists and shoulders)
- streching (especially through the big joints like the hips and shoulders)
- doing yoga
- any type of running, bike riding, dodgeball, high energy movement gym activity
Remember: the bigger the joint is, or the more joints you can put pressure through while doing an activity, the more organizing an activity is for your child's nervous system.
If your kid is too “wound up” and is having a hard time redirecting their energy:
If they get stuck or says “no” to a task:
If they are having a “defiant” day or are stuck in a defiant mood, remember that’s their way of controlling their environment:
Each time I explain the process of sensory integration in words to someone, I have to wrap my head around it all over again. I explain it differently every time, which is ok because sensory integration is such a vast topic. This time I was talking to special education teacher, so my explanation was tailored to her. She asked me specifically how to use multisensory activities to assist her students with their work in class and I told her to think of these activities as a neurological warm ups.
So think of sensory play tasks as NEUROLOGICAL WARM UPS for your child’s brain.
Deep pressure/heavy work provides long-lasting input to the big joints, forcing the brain to coordinate with the entire body to complete the given task. Tactile input to a certain body part (like hands or feet) forces your brain to focus all of its attention on that specific body part. Visual motor tasks, like popping bubbles with your fingers or completing a puzzle, force the circuits between your eyes and hands to communicate with each other.
So before you have your child sit down to do a non-preferred task like writing or a fine motor manipulative - let their brain warm up first. You will see a difference.
Wow. What a year it’s been. New job, new house, new friends, new business . . . Needless to say, lots of new seeds have been sown throughout the past year, which I am so unbelievably excited to watch grow. I feel so fortunate to be able to say that I live where I do and that this is my life. I love my life. I learned to say that this past year too.
Now, for the sensory stuff in my head . . .
I don’t even celebrate Christmas, and constantly experience sensory overload around the holidays. Especially over the course of the next week there is a lot more. More: LIGHTS, SOUNDS, PEOPLE, FOOD, SMELL, TOUCHES. For the sensory sensitive among us - its ALOT to process.
Heres an analogy for you - If you think of your child’s brain as a system of files, with compartments for different sensations, I imagine that their files are out of order and sometimes misfiled in the wrong drawer. Therefore when their nervous system attempts to process certain sensations, they get misfiled and misinterpreted, or sometimes not interpreted at all. Your child’s nervous system is also sometimes in a very big, anxiety ridden hurry to file things away, and may misfile sensations because of this also. Imagine that during the holidays your child suddenly has stacks of papers to file away, instead of single sheets. You get the idea - ultimately there’s a big mess leftover that desperately needs to be organized.
Don’t forget to give your child several moments of organization throughout each day. That could mean anything that resembles hard work, routine/structure, calmness, where you let them go to their happy place. For some kids that looks like playing with play doh alone for an hour. Taking a bubble bath and playing with shaving cream in the bath. Watching their favorite movie in a quiet room somewhere. Going for a long walk or hike, playing on the playground outside (lots of swinging and hanging from stuff). Receiving a hand or full body massage with yummy scented lotion. Whatever it is, you probably know what calms your kid down the best and has the longest lasting effect. Make sure to make time for them to do this at least once, if not several times throughout the day to keep them from experiencing a total sensory overload.
And of course, if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you all Happy Holidays and a very happy New Year to come!!
I write this blog as me, not just as an OT, or anything else I happen to be. I write it as all of me. I write because I think a lot, sometime I think that I think too much. The one area I spend most of my time thinking about is sensory integration, and how it affects me every moment of every second of every day. I am keenly aware of my sensory needs and of the sensory information being fed to me from my environment, whether or not I desire it or am capable of processing it all. I spend a good portion of my day attempting to make sense of the sensory needs of others, which I often do by relying on my own understanding of my personal sensory processing skills and experiences.
I could talk about "sensory stuff" forever, because it makes people make much sense to me. So I guess, for right now, this blog will serve as a medium for me to "talk" to you all of you about my sensory musings, because there are a lot of them!
For all of you out there, wondering about me - yes, I have my fair share of less-than-typical sensory needs, which I become more aware of on a daily basis. Feel free to ask questions in the comment section of the blog and I'll do my best to answer them.
First thought of the day - I'm off to bed soon, and although the heat is on and it's too warm in my room for a duvet, I will sleep with one anyway because of the weight of the covers. Without the weight I toss and turn, my legs twitch, and i just can't relax. Once I have heavier covers on me, I can relax and fall asleep quickly. Blankets and comforters don't do the trick - a down duvet does. Sleep tight!!
Hi, my name is Nat and I'm the co-owner of Sprocket Therapy Solutions. I work with a colorful rainbow of kids and grownups on a daily basis and as a result, I think a lot. This blog is a way for me to share some of my thoughts with the world.