The root cause of all confusion is lack of information. This is true in case of parents when their child picks up the thumb sucking habit. Parents are not sure about what to do or how to respond to their child’s thumb sucking. Asking friends and neighbors usually doesn’t help since everyone seems to have a different theory about thumb sucking. The numerous tips and suggestions you get along the way are often conflicting, something that further increases the confusion. It is important to remember that such confusions can only be eliminated with the right information. Here are 10 things that every parent should know about thumb sucking.
Thumb Sucking is Normal; It’s Not a Problem:
Parents often get worried because there’s a general perception that thumb sucking is harmful to babies and toddlers. Most parents would ask their child to remove their thumb from their mouth, even when they may not be sure how exactly it affects their child. It is wrong to tag thumb sucking as a problem. Even the American Dental Association accepts that thumb sucking is normal and it does not affect the alignment of teeth or jaws among children 2 – 4 years of age.
Helps Children Deal with Stress:
Thumb sucking is a kind of rooting reflex and a part of a child’s survival instinct. It is something that babies start learning when they are still inside the womb. Babies and toddlers feel comforted when they suck their thumb and with time, it becomes a coping mechanism for them. Every time they feel anxious, bored, or hungry, they might take to thumb sucking as a coping mechanism.You need not worry as long as your child is not sucking their thumb vigorously or doing it for extended periods of time. You can consult your doctor if you are not too sure.
You Need Not Feel Guilty About It:
There are a lot of misconceptions regarding why babies and toddlers pick up the habit of thumb sucking. Mothers often end up blaming themselves for not being able to wean the baby in time or doing it too early. The guilt can also be about using formula instead of breast milk or vice-versa. However, there’s no conclusive evidence that these things are linked to thumb sucking. So, if you are feeling guilty about your child’s thumb sucking, just let it go. You are in no way responsible for your child’s thumb sucking habit.
Thumb Sucking is Highly Addictive:
Most types of addictions serve as a coping mechanism and thumb sucking is no different. Thumb sucking can easily be compared with other types of addictions such as cigarettes, alcohol, etc. Even common acts of fidgeting such as biting nails, shaking legs, twirling the fingers, etc. are not very different from thumb sucking, when measured in terms of addiction. Be patient if you are trying to motivate your child to kick the habit of thumb sucking.
Using Force May Make Matters Worse:
Some parents act harshly when trying to stop their child from thumb sucking. Some parents even go to the extent of dipping their child’s thumb in chilli sauce or vinegar to forcefully prevent them from sucking their thumb. Wrapping the child’s thumb with paper or cloth is another technique that some parents use. However, such forceful methods should be avoided as it can cause the child to rebel.
Remember that thumb sucking is highly addictive. If thumb sucking continues beyond 4 years of age, focus on providing alternatives to your child. Alternatives could include things like toys, games, activities, DIY projects, craft projects, books, etc. You can also use their favorite food as a bargain to encourage them to stop sucking their thumb. For example, if your child likes ice cream, you can ask them to stop sucking their thumb for a certain period of time in exchange for a bowl of their favorite ice cream.
It May Take Some Time to Quit Thumb Sucking:
Some children might take longer to overcome their habit of thumb sucking. There is no need to be worried about this. Patience and perseverance are the two things you need to practice if your child is taking longer than usual to quit thumb sucking.
What You Can do to Help:
Most children would quit the habit of thumb sucking when they are 2-4 years of age. If not at home, then peer pressure at school will certainly motivate them to quit thumb sucking. If your child is more than 4 years of age and still sucking his thumb, you can share more information with them and tell them it can be harmful after a certain age. For example, you can tell them that thumb sucking after 5 years of age can result in deformed teeth and jaws. You can show them some images, which will be useful in convincing them.
When To Consult a Doctor:
If your child is displaying rebellious behavior when asked to quit thumb sucking, you may consult your doctor. Sometimes, anger and aggression may be due to nutritional deficiency, which can be revealed in laboratory tests. In some cases, thumb sucking can also lead to stomach infections and other complications related to the digestive system. If you notice dysentery type symptoms, ask your doctor if it’s linked to thumb sucking and how it can be prevented.
Talk, Motivate and Encourage:
You should try to give as much information as possible to your child regarding thumb sucking. The tone and language should convey motivation and encouragement, rather than sounding harsh or forceful. Your child may not understand everything you say, but eventually, they will start getting the basic idea. When children quit thumb sucking on their own, it has a positive impact on their psyche and it boosts their ability to self-regulate their emotions.
Thumb sucking and its impact will vary from child to child. Do not worry unnecessarily or have unrealistic expectations since most children manage to overcome their thumb sucking habit in time and without any adverse consequences. Just be watchful about any abnormal physical or psychological development in your child. In case you are not sure about something, always make it a point to consult the doctor.