Ultrasound images have revealed that some infants begin sucking their thumbs in the womb. An infant sleeping peacefully, thumb in mouth, has become an iconic image of the innocence and perfection of an adorable baby.
However, when thumb sucking persists after a child’s teeth begin to emerge, it becomes less a cute symbol of babyhood and more of a concern. The hazards of thumb sucking include deformation of the palate and misalignment of the teeth, which can contribute to speech impediments. Thumb sucking can cause other health problems, from illness to social isolation and bullying.
If you’re concerned about your child’s thumb sucking, understanding why children continue to suck their thumbs long after they are weaned from breast or bottle may assist you in helping your child break the habit. Here are ways to reduce your child’s desire to thumb suck.
Thumb sucking is a self-soothing activity. It makes infants feel safe and secure, reminding them of the security of feeding. An anxious child may such their thumb to relieve stress.
Observing the times a child begins to thumb suck can help identify triggers that make your child feel stressed. Once you identify things that might be making your child anxious, you can work to eliminate the triggers or talk to your child in simple terms about other ways to feel better when they’re feeling worried. Offer alternatives like hugging a stuffed animal or playing with a fidget toy.
The flip side of anxiety is boredom. A child may turn to thumb sucking simply because they need something to do with their hands. Coloring, play clay, age-appropriate board games, and building block toys provide engaging alternatives so a child can forget about their boredom and become invested in a creative activity that helps them feel calm and focused.
Nobody likes going to bed and finding they can’t sleep. Children who are put to bed too early may resort to thumb sucking as a self-soothing activity when they’re having trouble falling asleep. Regulating a child’s sleep patterns so they’re sleepy enough to nod off as soon as they’re in bed is another way to reduce your child’s desire to thumb suck.
When you don’t feel well, you seek comfort any way you can get it. For a child with an upset tummy or a sore throat, thumb sucking can provide a respite from feeling ill. If a child returns to thumb sucking after seemingly breaking the habit, consider whether a fever or the beginnings of a bad cold might be making them feel unwell.
Once you understand why a child may be sucking their thumb, you can take steps to help stop the thumb sucking habit. Remember that the soothing effect of thumb sucking comes from the sensation of suction. TGuard’s AeroThumb removes that comforting suction, eliminating the motivation to thumb suck as a means of self-comfort. In addition, talk to your child about other ways to feel better, and develop positive reinforcement strategies to reward your child for resisting the urge to suck their thumb.
“Thumb sucking: Help your child break the habit” from Mayo Clinic
“12 Ways to Stop Thumb Sucking for Good” from Ask Dr. Sears
“Thumb Sucking: Gentle ways to break the habit” from Talk, Eat, Play