Your Little Thumb Sucker
“Well, she’ll probably end up with buck teeth.” “Kids will make fun of him.” “It damages the skin.” Such are not-so-friendly warnings parents of children who suck their thumbs may hear. Do not worry and put away that foul-tasting nail polish or wacky looking thumb protector. Much of the negative hype is overblown, which is why we are dedicating this newsletter to the reasons why children suck their thumbs, what you should and shouldn’t do about it, and when it may be considered an issue.
Why the Thumb?
From the time we are born, the act of sucking is more than just a means of ingesting food. It also provides a means of immense comfort. It is why infants fall asleep on the breast or with a bottle, and why a baby can be eased with a pacifier. Sucking is an innate reflex for babies, you may have even seen them do it in your ultrasound! It’s a natural, safe and can be quite helpful to parents, as their baby learns to sooth themselves from time to time.
Thumb Sucking Past Infancy
Once your baby’s first set of teeth are in and thumb sucking persists, there is a chance that this habit could push the teeth slightly forward. Fortunately, this will in no way affect the placement of the adult teeth or add to the immense cost of your child’s future orthodonture bills.
Thumb sucking, even through the toddler years, is considered normal. It does not mean there is something wrong with your child and that they should feel embarrassed or shamed. The best thing you can do if you find yourself in this situation, is nothing. Much like tics and other undesirable, yet harmless habits, it is best for your child if you ignore it. Even the most voracious thumb sucker usually stops on his or her own by the time toddlerhood has ended.
Thumb Sucking in Older Children
In rare cases, thumb sucking can persist past the age of four. This is usually found to be the result of too much attention or negative reinforcement given to the habit in previous years. Beyond this age, thumb sucking can begin to impact the alignment of the adult teeth, so it is best your child shed the habit sooner rather than later.
How do you help them with this? Don’t reprimand them because of it, don’t remove the thumb from their mouth and don’t mention it. This is where their growing awareness and social cues come in real handy. As your child begins to notice that the kids around them aren’t sucking their thumbs anymore, they won’t want to either. They will also start to discover other skills or items to give them comfort and security. Social status and peer pressure, as you may well remember from your own childhood, is a much more effective behavioral enforcer than parents.
Succumb to the Thumb
We know thumb sucking can be a worrisome habit for parents, particularly when it feels like your child is the only one still doing it. But we can’t stress this enough – there is no need to worry. Allowing your child to find other ways of comforting themselves is more helpful to them in the end. And, when they finally drop this habit on their own, you can give them a thumbs up!