Thumb sucking – should we stop it or neglect it?

Whenever parents see their babies sucking on their thumb they find it really cute and adorable, but when the same thing is seen in grown up kids you will find parents pulling out their hair, trying everything possible to stop it.

Here are some facts about thumb sucking and some tips to prevent it.

Why do babies suck their thumbs?

Thumb sucking is a natural inborn reflex in children, because it is how they eat. So it’s definitely a good thing that your baby has figured it out. Kids suck their thumbs because it’s comforting and calming. He turns to his thumb whenever he’s tired, scared, bored, sick, or trying to adjust to challenges such as starting daycare or preschool. He may also use his thumb to fall asleep at bedtime and to lull himself back to sleep when he wakes up in the middle of the night. Sucking on thumb makes them feel secured.

Is thumb sucking normal?

Thumb-sucking is normal in babies and young children. Most babies and toddlers suck their thumbs. They may also suck on their fingers, hands, or items such as pacifiers. Little by little, most children stop thumb sucking on their own at age 3 to 4 years. Remember, even though a child who’s stopped sucking his or her thumb might revert to the behavior when he or she is stressed or anxious.

When thumb sucking becomes a problem?

Continuing thumb sucking even after the age of 5yrs or when the permanent teeth start erupting can lead to dental and speech problems. One factor that determines whether a child will have dental problems is the intensity with which he/she sucks. A child who just rests her thumb in mouth or passively sucks on it is less likely to develop problems than a child who sucks thumb in earnest. But at the same time passive thumb sucking for prolonged duration, like at night, is more harmful than intermittent thumb sucking.

Prolonged thumb-sucking may cause the teeth to become improperly aligned (malocclusion) or push the teeth outward. This usually corrects itself when the child stops thumb-sucking. But the longer thumb-sucking continues, the more likely it is that orthodontic treatment will be needed.

Speech problems caused by thumb-sucking can include not being able to say Ts and Ds, lisping, and thrusting out the tongue when talking.

How to give it a stop?

Simple home treatment measures stop most children from sucking their thumbs.

  • Keep the child’s hands occupied with a toy, puzzle or other activity.
  • Carefully remove your child’s thumb from his or her mouth during sleep
  • Give the example of his friends that have managed to stop thumb sucking.
  • Talk about the ‘bad’ germs that are on our hands and how the child puts them in his or her mouth while thumb sucking.
  • Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
  • Remind the child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night.
  • Try offering praise and rewards for not thumb-sucking ,it may also help your child break the habit.
  • Don’t shame or punish or yell your child for thumb-sucking. This will only lower your child’s self-esteem.

Can doctors help you stop it?

If home treatment doesn’t work and you are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking, talk with your child’s doctor or dentist.

  • Your dentist or pediatrician may prescribe a bitter medication to coat the thumb.
  • The dentist might recommend a special mouth guard or other dental appliance that interferes with sucking. These appliances are the best available options to put a stop to thumb sucking.
  • For some kids, a chat with the dentist about why it’s important to stop thumb sucking is more effective than a talk with mom or dad.

In the meantime, try not to worry. Putting too much pressure on your child to stop thumb sucking might only delay the process.

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