Thumbs Down! Stop That Thumb Sucking Habit

Every baby is born with a natural sucking instinct. It is what makes the baby take its feeds. The sucking instinct though wanes by the time the infant reaches between three to four months of age. Thumb-sucking on the other hand, develops more as a baby’s comfort seeking mechanism.

Thumb or finger-sucking is sometimes seen to be developing as early as 15 weeks in-vivo. Within the womb, the developing fetuses have their hands very close to their faces and it isn’t much difficult to find their thumbs or fingers. As soon as the baby is born, though, it can’t co-ordinate its limbs enough to bring their fingers to their mouths, and often results in a lot of face scratching.

By the time they are three to four months old, they can easily guide their fingers into their mouth, and that is when the habit actually seems to take foothold in the baby’s life. Some children find sucking their thumbs easier, while others may have some other favorite fingers. Some may even find comfort in pacifiers if their parents have provided one for them.

Thumb-sucking through the age of two to four years of age, is not much alarming. Most children will give up the habit, when they have found other more interesting activities to do with their hand. Some children, however, continue sucking their fingers well beyond 6 years of age. This is where the problem commences. At this age, the habit has become reinforced and is not easy to give up. On the other hand, it leads to a lot of facial deformities while the permanent teeth are erupting. The child may have an open bite where there is a visible large gap between the upper and lower front teeth. It is extremely unsightly and difficult to correct even with orthodontic treatment.

It is therefore best to stop the habit early in the child’s life. Most of the times it is quite the daunting task for parents to stop this habit in their children. But keep a few pointers in mind and your child will be weaned off the thumb in no time.

* Don’t be judgmental, or accusing when trying to stop the habit. Keep a smiling face, and remove the thumb or the finger from your child’s mouth manually. The child may resist this. Do not scream, scold or yell. If your child puts the thumb back in their mouth, just calmly remove it again.

* Encourage the child when he or she removes the thumb out on their own.

* Don’t indulge in the various so-called foolproof techniques like mittens, bitters or other medications intended to discourage the child, unless absolutely necessary. Try all the other methods of helping the child give the habit up on his or her own.

* Most of the times, you will notice your child putting his or her fingers in their mouth when boredom strikes. Give them some activity to do with their hands. Give them some crayons, or try finger painting. Play-doh works well to keep their hands engaged. Chances are that they will immediately take their hands off their mouths when they find some interesting activity.

* Sometimes children will revolt, when their favorite pastime is being discouraged. The important thing to remember is that do not judge them. The habit won’t go away in the blink of an eye. It will take some time. Be patient. It shows your kid too, that you have faith in them. It goes a long way in building the child’s confidence.

Don’t worry if the habit continues till the age of four. No permanent harm will be done. Keep encouraging the child but be firm in expressing your opinion that thumb sucking is not desirable at all. Don’t assume an authoritarian stance but maintain your stand. Your child knows and understands a lot without being told. They are constantly watching you and looking for cues. Give them the positive vibes and they will pick them up faster than you think.