When it first started three years ago it was kind of cute. He'd be flipping through the pages of his little cardboard books and then nosh on the pages every so often. Then he had these chubby little plastic toddlers from Little Einstein... they got their heads nibbled on while he watched tv. Then it was the coffee table. Or pillows. Stuffed animals, the bottoms of bowls or sippy cups... anything that could go in his mouth was fair game.
The kid from Lemony Snicket's got nothing on Little Man
All his therapists and doctors told me it was no big deal. "Most kids go through this stage, he's going through it a little later because he's developmentally delayed." "Give it time, he's exploring his world." So we gave it a little more time.
The cute little nibbles and bites became vicious with the addition of more teeth. It got fun for him to hold a book in his mouth and tear it to shreds. His plastic crib guard that we'd gotten to protect the wooden crib was destroyed - and then so was his crib. He had leg and hip braces he was supposed to wear during the night that he chewed through and pulled out the metal screws with his teeth. Oh, and then he chewed up (and spit out, he never eats anything) the foam inserts for each one so we couldn't even fix the braces.
When Little Man would get really overstimulated or excited, he would chomp down on anything that was in front of him. It was all in good fun, unless he bit you. Then it really, really hurt. Innocent bystanders that thought it would be fun to tickle him or blow bubbles during a therapy session were the recipients of Little Man's "love bites" more than once.
It's been three years and Little Man has not outgrown the mouthing stage. By now we barely notice the accommodations we make for his chewing needs, but from the outside looking in I'm sure our parenting methods are slightly unorthodox.
- Chewy tubes, teethers, and chewy toys. Many bath toys work especially well since they are that smooshy plastic that feels almost like a dog toy, but cute enough to drag around in public. We have all the Thomas the Tank bath toys, a Caillou bath toy, and a dozen chewy tubes. These work sometimes if there aren't too many other distractions like the seat belt of the grocery store cart that is more interesting to chew on.
- When those options don't work, we go to Plan B - The Nose Pinch. Since Little Man has amazing jaw strength from three years of chewing nonstop, we can't always yank the grocery cart seat belt out of his mouth when he gets the urge to chew. And sometimes its an emergency situation, like when he latches on to a nice neighbor's fancy dining room table or his grandma's beautiful leather couches. Plan B is exactly like it sounds - we pinch his nose. He needs to breathe, so he releases his jaw. If he is latched onto a human, we also remember to push (gently) into the bite instead of trying to yank away (which tears skin). Obviously this works only if you're remembering this as you're being bitten, which is only about 50% of the time. I can't take credit for Plan B, it was on the advice of one of the nice doctors at Kennedy Krieger who gets bit on a daily basis. But I thank her mentally just about every day.
- We also have Chew Proofed our house to the best of our abilities. We found soft crib bumpers that are made of heavy duty fleece with a waterproof lining beneath it, and they are much safer than the plastic ones he breaks through. Any small toys are out, for gifts at birthday time we usually ask for cardboard books or toys appropriate for 12 months. Stuffed animals are fine, but not ones with button eyes, removable battery packs, or button batteries. We hide our shoes, especially flip flops, which are apparently delicious.
One of the best ways we cope since Little Man has started chewing is to keep a sense of humor. Sure, its probably odd that my son chews on what looks like a dog toy during dinner. It's better than your napkin. I know I'm ignoring him chew on the handle of the shopping cart. I just disinfected it with Lysol wipes because I knew that would happen and that there was nothing I could do about it. And I usually laugh at your awkward faces when I pinch his little nose to make him let go of my purse straps. It's a nice purse! Oh... and finally I will say I'm sorry that I flinch sometimes when Little Man tries to kiss me on the arm or leg. People have mentioned that its really strange for them to watch. I've just been bitten too many times to trust him. I swear he gets plenty of snuggles where I make sure his teeth are facing away from me.
This stage stinks. I try everyday to think of better ways to get through it. But its not the end of the world, and we'll be fine. We're hoping it stops before the permanent teeth come in.