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Breaking The Thumb Sucking Habit

5 min read

Why do babies suck?
Some parents are concerned seeing their little one with a thumb stuck in his mouth, whilst others cringe with embarrassment. Thumb sucking is very common and almost all kids, suck thumb or other fingers during their infancy. Thumb sucking works as a natural pacifier for young kids. Young kids associate it with comfort. Most kids do not intentionally suck thumb, it simply happens automatically to them. Is this a cause for concern? – Read below:

Why Does My Child Suck His Thumb?

Sucking is a natural reflex that babies learn while in the womb itself. A baby associates sucking to soothing, comfort and relaxation. No wonder, many a parents would have noticed that their child sucks his thumb when he is either scared, anxious, hungry or stressed out. Most kids also do engage in other activities while sucking their thumb, like playing with a strand of hair, rubbing the eye or scratching the ankle. Apart from sucking the thumb when a child is bored, tired or upset, some other reasons that your child is sucking his thumb could be:

  1. They have been doing it since conception: in the womb
  2. Babies may suck thumb if you are weaning them from breastfeeding. Consider sucking thumb as mother’s nipples and this provides them solace
  3. Imitate other babies
  4. Pleasure
  5. Thumb sucking eases sore gums during teething. Increased saliva production through sucking also helps stomach upset
  6. Hunger

Hence, during infancy, thumb sucking can be appropriate and useful trait, which helps to feel them comfortable and secure. And yes, it also entertains them quite a bit!

What Side Effects Can Thumb Sucking Have On My Child?

Experts advise that merely placing the thumb in the mouth may not harm the development of teeth, however vigorous sucking may cause misaligned teeth. Sucking action in small babies puts pressure on the upper jaw and roof of the mouth which later requires correction (mostly by braces). Speech problems can also develop in children who suck their thumbs. However, sucking thumb also raises concerns on ingesting germs, since it’s practically not possible to have your child spick and span all the time.However, you cannot and should not force the child not to suck his thumb, as these tactics generally backfire. To get rid of the habit, you will need to guide and support your child every step of the way.

When Should I See The Dentist For My Child’s Thumb Sucking Habit?

If your child attains the age of 4-5 years and still hasn’t broken the habit of sucking his thumb, you may consider visiting the dentist to ensure that sucking is not affecting the development of his mouth and jaws. If you notice that your child vigorously sucks on the thumb, then this may damage the soft tissues of the mouth, and even cause misalignment of teeth.
Or if you identify that your child has less teeth development, that the average for his age, consider visiting the specialist. You could also see a doctor if the child has speech and communication problems.
The expert will thoroughly check your child’s mouth and even pass on some very useful tips on dealing with thumb sucking.
Prolonged Thumb Sucking in children

10 Tips To Break The Thumb-Sucking Habit In Kids

    1. Identify triggers: Identify the situation in which your kid often resorts to thumb sucking. You might notice some set patterns in behavior or situations in which your child will simply put his thumb in his mouth and suck. And when such a situation occurs again be prepared to tackle it differently. For instance, if it’s during watching TV, try to keep his hands occupied, maybe by playing fish in a dish or a stress ball
    2. Reward the behavior: You must encourage and guide your child that not indulging in thumb sucking is the correct behavior. So the next time he manages to watch his favorite TV show without sucking thumb, mention this and appreciate the behavior, through words and affection. With progressive improvement, you may even take him out for movie or games
    3. Restrict the behavior: Rather than completely siphoning off the child pacifier, work on minimizing it. You may explicitly specify that he should not suck thumb when guests are around, or during outings. The child is satisfied that you are not robbing him of his comfort
    4. Use his idols: Be it his favorite cartoon character or actress, ask him whether Popeye sucks his thumb? You may even find certain animated clips explaining children the harms of thumb sucking and that they should stop it
    5. Express your love and support: Time and again, if your kid is hurt, feels anxious, dealing with a anegative situation, or is unhappy whatever, clearly tell your kid how much you love him. Explain him, that his parents are there to protect and support him in every situation

Breaking the thumb sucking habit

  1. Distract and substitute: You may want to hand a soft toy to your kid as he goes to sleep and suggest him to caress the toy as a way of keeping his hands busy as well as engaging him
  2. Help channel stress: The moment of loneliness, anxiety or sadness which disturbs your kid inducing him to suck thumb. Talk to your kid, help him develop into a confident person. Share his difficulties, devise solutions together
  3. Start early: Its best to start earlier – remember habits are very difficult to break as kids mature! Begin gently and wait for your kid to give up thumb sucking. If this habit continues even after 5 years age, you need to be more attentive about this
  4. Weaning care: Immediately curtailing the comfort and warmth of breast milk, may make babies opt for thumb sucking. Consider slowing down on breastfeeding, maybe with occasional bottle feeding – simply allowing your baby to adjust to bottle feeding
  5. Express clear instructions: Sometimes just explaining everything to kids is half battle won. They will know that their actions upset you and will try to avoid it

Prolonged Thumb Sucking In Children

Most children give up thumb sucking on their own as they grow somewhere between the ages of 2-3 years. Sometimes, due to being ridiculed by peers or they outgrow the need of comfort from sucking thumb. Patience is the key. Provide unconditional love and support to your kid. As he grows, he will be able to confide easily in you and channel away his anxiousness. Eventually he will give up this habit.
Shouting or embarrassing your child and harshly pulling out the thumb from his mouth may have a negative impact. If you are successful in creating a fear against you, he may start detesting you and even suck thumb hiding from you. Treat this issue sensitively and patiently.

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