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Children and Thumb Sucking

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 6 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Thumb Sucking Pacifier Use Comfort

When babies find their thumbs for the very first time, popping them into their mouths, parents are likely to grab their cameras to take a shot of the happy moment. For some parents, however, the behaviour that they first found adorable becomes a cause of stress when they can't get their toddlers (or older kids) to stop sucking their thumbs.

Comfort Behaviours
In the beginning, babies find their thumbs much by chance, but soon, many babies find thumb sucking to be calming and the seeds of a long term habit are sown. Sucking is a natural need for babies, with virtually all babies sucking on their thumb or fingers at least occasionally, but many babies develop a habit of sucking their thumbs whenever they feel tired, hungry, or agitated. While some babies will naturally give up the habit on their own, others may continue for years, even to the degree where they negatively impact the development of their teeth and palate.

Sometimes, providing babies with an alternate comfort object, such as a pacifier, can be beneficial. Parents who gently remove their babies' thumbs from their mouths and replace them with pacifiers can usually help the babies to transfer their attachment from thumb to pacifier. While some parents object to the use of pacifiers, they offer one distinct advantage over allowing babies to become habitual thumb suckers - at some point, parents can make the decision to simply toss their children's pacifiers into the bin, putting a stop to the habit. Parents of children who prefer their thumbs may have a more difficult time convincing their children to stop.

Breaking the Habit
While many experts in child development recommend simply waiting for children to stop sucking their thumbs on their own, parents are frequently uncomfortable to allow the habit to continue for years, preferring to seek ways to help their children give up their thumbs. Often, children themselves will approach their parents after having been teased by peers about sucking their thumbs. This is the best time for parents to provide their kids with help since kids who are receptive to the idea of giving up sucking their thumbs will likely do better than those who don't yet feel ready. While there is no one solution that will work for every child, some of the following suggestions may help:
  • Positive Reinforcement: Placing a calendar in a prominent place and then placing a sticker on each day that the child refrains from sucking their thumb can give children a concrete way to keep track of their progress. Providing daily encouragement as well as a promise of a reward after a set amount of successful days can help kids to stay on track.

  • Limiting Opportunities: Some parents find that by encouraging their children to suck their thumbs only in certain places or at certain times can help them to gradually break the habit. Agreeing that children are allowed to suck their thumbs in their rooms or before bedtime can help them to make the transition.

  • Provide Reminders: Often, kids suck their thumbs without even realising that they are doing it. Making them mindful of their actions can work wonders in helping them to stop the behaviour. Wearing a bandage on the preferred thumb, donning gloves, or utilising one of the distasteful liquids available over-the-counter may help children to be more aware.

Words of Caution
In their effort to convince their children to stop sucking their thumbs, some parents resort to punishing or belittling their kids, hoping that they will provide necessary incentive. While these tactics may work, they are not without cost to children and shouldn't be considered viable options. Teasing or punishing children for sucking their thumbs is harmful to their developing sense of self-esteem - far more detrimental than continuing the thumb sucking for a while longer.

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