July 9, 2020

The facts about thumb sucking

Why babies suck their thumbs. For the most part, babies suck their thumb to soothe themselves. It starts in the womb and is natural and instinctive for babies.

Is sucking the thumb a bad thing? When a baby sucks its thumb it is good because they need to learn how to rely on their own resources. The ability to regulate or control your own behavior and emotions is an important developmental challenge. When an infant sucks its thumb, it is finding ways to make itself feel better without outside help.

You don’t have to stop your child from sucking her thumb right now. Usually, thumb-sucking is more irritating to parents than it is harmful to kids. Your baby will stop when they are ready and has developed other ways of soothing them self.

Why Toddlers suck their thumb. Toddlers suck their thumbs because it’s comforting and calming. Your toddler probably practiced this habit while they were still in the womb and perfected it as an infant. Now your child may turn to his or her thumb when they are tired, scared, bored, sick, or trying to adjust to challenges such as starting preschool or going on a long car ride.

So what can you do about a toddler thumb sucker:

Let it go. Even if you really hate that your child sucks their thumb, nagging or punishing them won’t help. They usually don’t even realize when they are sucking their thumb. Besides, pressuring your child to stop sucking their thumb may intensify their desire to do it even more.

Some parents try to make it less desirable for the child by using techniques such as putting an elastic bandage on the thumb, or a wire cage. However, to the child this will seem like unjust punishment, especially since they indulges in the habit for comfort and security. So your best option is to try to wait it out. Children usually give up thumb-sucking when they’ve found other ways to calm and comfort themselves. For example, while a toddler who’s hungry may suck their thumb, an older child (age 3 or 4) might simply open the refrigerator and look for something to eat or ask their parents for a snack instead.

If by age 5 or 6 it continues to be a problem, then you can take other measures.

Don’t worry. The American Dental Association says most children can safely suck their thumb until their permanent teeth begin to appear. Safely means that it can be done without damaging the alignment of their teeth or jaws. (Permanent teeth don’t usually erupt until around age 6.) However, not all children’s thumb-sucking is equally damaging. The intensity of the sucking and the tongue’s thrust is what deforms teeth and makes braces necessary later. Children who rest their thumb passively in their mouth are less likely to have difficulty than children who suck aggressively. Watch your child and analyze his technique. If he sucks vigorously, you may want to begin curbing his habit earlier, say at age 4.

If your child’s thumb becomes red and chapped from sucking, you can try applying a moisturizing ointment, cream, or lotion while they are sleeping.
Preempt the thumb-sucking with other activities. If you can identify times and places when your child is particularly likely to suck their thumb — while watching television, for example — you can give them an alternative, like give them crayons and paper, a rubber ball to bounce or puppets to play with. If your child turns to it when they are frustrated, help them put their feelings into words. The key is to notice when and where sucking occurs, and divert the attention by offering an alternative.