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Thumb Sucking - Is it Bad? How do you Break it?

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 2

Prolonged thumb sucking is primarily a habit found in Western cultures. A child turns to thumb sucking for comfort and can be more prolific if both parents work during their childhood. In cultures where infants spend most of the day being carried around by their mothers while they go about their daily life, prolonged thumb sucking is less of an issue.

 This is not to say if you have a thumb sucker that you are a bad parent and your child is going to grow up horribly unstable. In fact, thumb sucking prior to preschool is fairly normal. It is a way for the child to comfort itself and at that point, a little cute. However, after the age of five thumb sucking stops being cute and becomes more of a problem. No mother wants to be embarrassed by their child sucking their thumb in a store when they are seven and since their teeth will start to become permanent, this act can lead to dental problems.

thumb sucking

Why is it so Bad?

Would you prefer having a teenager who sucks their thumb in private for comfort or turns to cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs for comfort? When put in that situation, thumb sucking does not seem so bad. While sucking at an advanced age can prove to be no problem what-so-ever, you never know how your child's future will turn out.

The major negative to prolonged thumb sucking is dental issues. Thumb sucking can lead to malocclusions in the teeth. This is basically when the teeth do not align properly and start to push outwards of the mouth and leave a suspiciously thumb shaped gap in between the top jaw and the bottom. If thumb sucking is stopped around the first sign of malocclusions, the child's teeth will usually sort themselves out, however if it is not stopped these defects can only be corrected by extensive orthodontic treatment. A common misconception is that thumb sucking causes overlapping teeth as well, this is wrong. Do not blame your child for their thumb sucking if they ended up with crooked teeth that overlap and need braces.

Prolonged sucking can also lead to speech impediments where your child will pronounce T's and D's with a lisp or cannot talk without thrusting their tongue forward. Once these speech impediments begin, they can only be treated with speech therapy, which is why parents opt to end thumb sucking before the age of three.

A defect that prolonged sucking can cause that is not easily spotted like a speech impediment or dental defects is anxiety. Many experts believe that a child that sucks their thumb for a prolonged amount of time can lead to an adulthood full of anxiety. However, in a world where everyone has some kind of anxiety, it is difficult to tell whether or not these anxieties are indeed caused by the habit of sucking their thumbs.

thumb sucking teeth

How to Make Them Stop

Thumb sucking is not something you can yell at your child for to get them to stop. You certainly cannot beat it out of them either if you want a healthy and well developed child. Those are the worst things you can do. As I mentioned before, this habit is an act that a child does for comfort and calming. Hitting and yelling is stressful and will only encourage your child to do it more. It is important to keep in mind that the only way to truly squash a habit is to make it the child's choice to quit.

So how do you get them to quit?

Peer Pressure
This is the most effective, however I feel it is also the cruelest method to get your child to stop this habit. If your child sucks their thumb in public, then that should quickly end by the time they go to school. If it does not, you can be sure the other kids will notice. It is sad to say, but nothing is more effective than being ridiculed for a habit by your peers. This shames the child in to wanting to stop to be normal like their peers. They may have to deal with the ridicule of having a reputation for being a thumb sucker at school for a few months, but most kids forget pretty fast.

Use a Gentle Reminder
You should not yell at your kid anytime you see them thumb sucking, but instead use gentle reminders to keep them from unconsciously doing it. Try wrapping a bandage around their thumb, this is less obvious than using a bitter nail polish. The bandage will ruin the texture and shape of the thumb making it uncomfortable to keep their mouth. If they are having trouble keeping the bandage on, you may have to switch to something less subtle like a mitten.

Use Rewards
If you notice them not sucking their thumbs, especially around bed time which is the hardest time to break them of the habit, give them plenty of positive encouragement. Make sure you remind them how important this is to becoming a "big boy" or "big girl". If your child really does not want to give up sucking their thumbs, try creating a reward system to encourage them to quit by themselves. Bribery is usually frowned upon, but when used to stop an embarrassing habit like thumb sucking, it is exceedingly useful.

Busy Hands
During the first few days of quitting, keep your child busy. Have them do puzzles, play a game, take up knitting, whatever. As long as the activity keeps them busy, it is good. Cut down the television time as during watching television and during bed time is when kids tend to suck their thumb the most.

Avoid Stress
You may not think your children get stressed out, but they do. Avoid putting them in stressful situations while you are trying to get your child to kick the habit. Avoid fighting loudly with your spouse in front of them or within earshot. Try to avoid excessively yelling at your child as well, if they are misbehaving, try a gentler form of punishment. If your child is shy, do not take them to meet new people with you.  Avoid things that scare your child as well. Children will almost always turn to their habits when stressed out.

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Comments

May 13, 2013 2:07pm
KimChaos
"Thumb shaped gap in the teeth." I never thought of this. I looked at the picture used for illustration and had an aha moment. It does does exactly like that.
May 14, 2013 4:20pm
curiosity44
Amerowolf, I always wondered why children sucked their thumbs and you have enlightened me. I find it intriguing about what a difference parents can in how much they suck them. It is an interesting connection to working parents. I never thought about this serving as a comfort activity for children. Great job Amerowolf!
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