My Learning Curve: The Calming Power of Bubble Gum

K B bubble gum

In 2009, I launched My Learning Curve, a series of posts with practical tips for parenting children from “hard places.” I’m reaching back into my archives to share some of these updated posts with you. We are nine years into our adoption journey, while many of you are at the beginning; I remember how desperate we were for help. I hope these posts are useful to you.

I was a “no gum mom” until June of 2009 when a wise therapist changed my mind. In an early therapy session, Kalkidan was dealing with some difficult emotions, so our therapist had us take a break to chew gum and have five hugs. She explained that chewing gum has a calming effect; I later learned that it is related to deep pressure in jaw joints.

She broke out a bag of Dubble Bubble and all three of us went to work on chewing and being calm. Just in case you are tempted to try this with a skimpy piece of Trident gum, it is my personal and completely non-professional opinion that it won’t have quite the same impact. There is something about the way a big chunk of Dubble Bubble fills the mouth, making your jaw and tongue work hard, that seems to be part of the process.

Our therapist advised me to give Kalkidan gum before transitions and any time that stress seemed to be mounting. That seemed pretty simple to me, except for the problem of not allowing gum in the house. This is a perfect example of the importance of flexibility as adoptive parents. We have to adapt and change in order to help our children from “hard places” heal.

Our new rule became that gum could be chewed while sitting at the kitchen counter or rocking in the big chair with me. When my child was calm and ready to move on, it had to be thrown away.

The other kids thought this was brilliant and offered to participate in “gum homework” with their sister. To this day I keep gum in my purse for Eby and Wogauyu to chew during the sermon at church. They are calmer and more focused when their jaws are busy chewing gum.

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As I write, it occurrs to me that bubble gum might help us get through some stressful afternoons of homework. I’m going to order some Dubble Bubble today. It will be a fun surprise for the boys and just might take the edge off of a challenging part of our day.

I spent hours rocking Kalkidan while she chewed a big piece of bubble gum and became calm. I hope this small tip is helpful for you and your children.

Let me know if you give it a try! Have a great Thursday, friends.

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

17 Comments

  1. Julie
    January 7, 2016

    Bubblegum saved the day for us so many times! I used to keep it in the car. When I would pick her up from school, I would offer a piece of gum before I even asked how her day was.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 7, 2016

      Hi Julie! Good thought – offer before it's even needed. Good to hear from you.

      Reply
  2. ARL
    January 7, 2016

    We use gum in church with our little foster guy right now. He was happily smacking away on a Hubbabubba bubble gum and the lady in front of us kept turning around to see what all the smacking was about. I was tempted to give her a smack and say "it's just gum, face front please!" 🙂 Better some smacking at first while he works the gum than the alternative!
    I just had a thought to add bubble gum to piano practice/homework time for my 10 year old. I wonder if that might help him!
    We use Karyn Purvis' three rules for gum: 1-when you are finished it goes in the garbage 2-when you are finished it goes in the garbage 3-when you are finished it goes in the garbage! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 7, 2016

      Awesome rules – you know, Dr.Purvis is the "Queen of bubble gum." I was going to work that into the post, but ran out of time.

      Reply
      1. A friend
        January 7, 2016

        How do you respond / can you suggest a way we could still allow gum when 1) it doesn't go in the garbage when finished 2) my child leaves the table (or specified area) WITH the gum without permission, then sticks it elsewhere, or puts in on clothing 3) sneaks it out of the garbage later if we make it past 1 & 2.

        I really want to allow gum but so far any parameters I give have not been followed.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          January 7, 2016

          That's difficult because if the gum makes your life more complicated or creates greater challenges, it may not help with building connection. It didn't always work for us, but we stuck with the rules and Kalkidan liked the gum enough that she was often willing to follow them. You could try giving gum only when you can sit with your child, perhaps set a five minute "gum time" timer, then it is thrown away. As your child grows in his ability to follow the gum rules, you can add time, then you can add time when you are not sitting side-by-side,etc. Of course, not every idea works – your child may find jumping on a trampoline more calming, or swinging, rocking, or lying under a weighted blanket. This is just one tool to try.

          Reply
  3. nwhannas
    January 7, 2016

    Lisa, I continue to see so many parallels between parenting children from hard places and parenting those who have sensory needs and who may be on the autism spectrum. Chewing gum has always helped my son, and I've noticed (because many of these things are inherited) that when I chew gum while driving, especially in high volume traffic, I am able to be more calm and focused. One tip – our OT suggested 2 pieces of gum (if you don't have bubblegum around).

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 7, 2016

      So true! It is very helpful for Eby who has sensory challenges. I think I may need a piece of gum right now – it hasn't been my best morning!

      Reply
      1. nwhannas
        January 7, 2016

        We'll do our Violette Beauregard together. 😉

        Reply
  4. jacqueline
    January 7, 2016

    Interesting tip – will have to give it a try.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 7, 2016

      I hope it's helpful, Jacqueline.

      Reply
  5. Lori McCary
    January 7, 2016

    Brilliant idea! Guess I'm going to buy some bubblegum tomorrow for a little girl I happen to love!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 8, 2016

      I hope it helps, Lori!

      Reply
  6. Julie Pitts
    January 8, 2016

    We take our gum chewing very seriously! After we went to ETC in Sept 2012 in TN and learned about the gum, in went and bought a vat of Extra bubble gum from Sam's Club. I still keep it everywhere–car, purse, desk, junk drawer, back pack, etc etc. We use it frequently. Also, tootsie roll pops work well. I try to limit the sugar as much as possible, but I make exception for stress. It is almost the only thing that helps. Thankful for Dr. Purvis and the lesson in gum.

    Reply
  7. Laurel
    January 10, 2016

    Very interesting. I've never heard of this. (Somehow I missed this blog post back in the day.)

    Similarly . . . we recently learned that sucking on suckers during homework helps those with ADHD focus better. Being the homeschooling mother of 12, with 3 boys who struggled with ADHD, this is something that I wish I had learned many years ago. 🙂

    I bought a big bag of Dum-Dums for my 13 year old to suck on only during homework times. My daughter-in-law (that lives downstairs) quickly asked about the bag of suckers and began using them with my 3 1/2 year old grandsons as he does his "homeschooling". This grandson is clearly following in his daddy's ADHD footsteps. So, when it's time for him to focus on his schoolwork he will come upstairs and ask, "Nana, can I have a sucker?" Oh so cute.

    Reply
  8. Debbie
    January 12, 2016

    We are sending our daughters to regular for the first time next year and I am going to try this with homework with one of them. I am anticipating a bit of trouble with it. On another note, I haven't read your blog in a very long time and I was shocked about Dimples. I'm so very very sorry.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 13, 2016

      Thank you, Debbie; I appreciate your words.

      Reply

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