thumb sucking

Thumb-sucking: What To Do About It

One of the most common habits among children is thumb sucking. But at some point, you get tired of it and decide to break it. Although my kids have never sucked their thumbs or fingers, I have heard some parents raise concerns that their kids just won’t stop sucking their thumbs. So, what causes this habit and how can you help your kid to stop it?

thumb sucking
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Why Do Some Kids Suck Their Thumbs?

Babies usually have natural sucking and rooting reflexes. This is what causes them to put thumbs (and sometimes fingers) into their mouths. Note that thumb sucking can begin even before birth. It’s a coping mechanism that they might have developed while they are still in the womb. 
Some of the main reasons for thumb sucking include security reasons. It makes some babies feel secure. Some may use it to soothe themselves before they go to sleep. Because thumb sucking is calming and comforting, your baby might turn to it when they are bored, sick, scared, tired or while trying to adjust to new challenges. 

Why is Thumb Sucking Bad?

Kids with a habit of thumb sucking are usually very slow when it comes to speech development. Constantly placing the thumb on top of the mouth’s palate can also disorient their teeth alignment. In addition to those, they might get routinely exposed to bacteria and suffer from frequent stomach pains.

What Can You Do to Stop a Child From Thumb Sucking?

In order to achieve success, you might be forced to combine two or more techniques and they include: 

1. Talking to Your Child

Always talk to your child first when you are trying to find a solution to a problem that affects them. Tell them why thumb sucking is a bad habit. Although talking may fail to be effective, it might help them decide if they want to quit. Note that a positive encouragement usually means that the battle is half won. Tell your kid that thumbs usually contain germs which make people sick. Besides that, it’s important to let them know that this condition might delay their speech development and they may even get teased by other kids.

2. Use a Positive Reinforcement

Set attainable goals for your child and if they achieve them, give them a reward. For instance, tell them if they don’t suck the thumb an hour before bed, you will read for them a beautiful bedtime story. You can use stickers as reminders or calendars to record days which your child has successfully avoided thumb sucking.

3. Identify the Triggers

There are many reasons why kids suck their thumbs. It could be a response or coping mechanism to stress, hunger, sleepiness among others. Identify the main cause of this issue and then try to find a solution. If its stress, hug and cuddle your children as often as you can. Reassure them with kind words. If its sleep, sing for them lullabies or tuck in a stuffed animal in their bed.

4. Use a Chewelry

This is a non-flavored and lead-free jewelry that’s chewable. It’s one of the best substitutes of thumb sucking. Chewelry provides an alternative pleasure that kids get from oral stimulation. They are normally cheap and eco-friendly products which may help to stop thumb sucking.

5. Gentle Reminders

If thumb sucking becomes an addictive habit, your child may do it unconsciously. It might be even an automatic response mechanism to idleness. So, instead of using harsh words be gentle with them. Politely remind them to stop and avoid ridiculing, scolding, or criticizing them. 

When Should You Seek Professional Help?

thumb sucking

Most children normally stop sucking thumbs on their own. It might stop while they are still young i.e. 6 or 7 months or when they are active toddlers i.e. 2-3 years. But parents should be aware that a child may stop sucking their thumb and still go back to it when they are stressed. So, when should they intervene and seek professional help?

Generally, thumb sucking isn’t a matter of concern to most parents. However, it might become alarming when your child has grown all their permanent teeth. At this stage, a parent has all the reasons to worry because the thumb might affect the child’s palate or how his/her teeth are lined up. This increases the risk of dental problems depending on how long and how frequently they have been sucking their thumb. Some medical experts recommend that parents should seek professional help before the child reaches 3 years. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends thumb-sucking treatment for children who are above 5 years.

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