When a child likes to explore new things they put every second thing in their tiny mouths. While they are eating healthy it is fine but problems may arise when they put non-food in their mouth.
It is a familiar sight to see children build mud and sand castles. They love to play with these castles, decorate them and then, in the end, smash them. Children love to play with mud, in fact, I have seen children who also swim in some muddy pools. This is a very normal feature of every child and we have also grown up doing the same. But what is not normal is the fact when children start eating mud and dirt. This definitely is something to worry about.
This behavioural concern known as Pica is very common in children. It is believed that 10 to 30 per cent of children are affected by this between the ages 1 to 6. The word Pica is derived from the Latin word ‘magpie’ meaning a bird with a fairly large and non-selective appetite. A child may eat dirt and other substances like:
- Animal faeces
Though it does not sound harmful just imagine the havoc non-food items can cause. These things could be toxic and cause illnesses, parasitic infections, poisoning and intestinal blockages. Pica is considered as a self-harm behaviour though not deliberate.
Pica becomes common when a child is exploring their taste buds. But this does not mean that each time they put something in their mouth is because of pica. Pica happens when the normal exploratory stage is crossed and the child craves for non-food items. In some, but not all, cases pica is suggestive of autism and intellectual disabilities.
What Causes Pica in a Child:
There are a number of reasons which can cause pica in a child. Some of them are:
- For attention
- Being deprived or neglected by the mother
- An imbalance in the chemicals of the brain
- Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Taste developed for certain things
- Deficiency of iron and zinc
Complications of Pica:
Eating non-food continuously for more than a month can lead to complication in a child. While eating non-food they don’t realise but can give rise to complications like:
- Nutritional deficiencies especially iron and zinc
- dental problems like broken, cracked and chipped teeth
- Lead poisoning
- Blockage of the intestinal tract
- Constipation and parasitic infections
How can Pica be Treated:
Pica usually results from an imbalance of the nutrients. Thus it is important to add some supplements to the child’s diet. Other treatment techniques which can be adopted are:
- Therapy and medication for mental health issues and OCD
- One of the causes of pica is neglect, thus it is important to talk to the child and ease the communication channel
- Avoid punishing the child or using negative reinforcement when they display pica. Make sure to show positive reinforcement when they stop pica.
- Prepare a goodie box for the child with interesting food which a child can opt over non-food
Pica can be prevented by paying attention to the child’s diet and discouraging them from eating non-food. Though pica resolves as the child grows older, taking care can prevent the many complications they can have in future.
Theme Reveal, A – Autism, B – Bronchiolitis, C – Celiac Disease, D – Dyslexia, E – Eating Disorders, F – Fever, G – GERD, H – Hand Foot And Mouth Disease (HFMD), I – Imaginary Friends, J – Juvenile Arthritis, K – Kawasaki Disease, L – Leukaemia, M – Meningitis, N – Neuroblast, O – Omphalitis