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Breaking the Thumb-Sucking Habit

08 Dec , 2020

Babies have an innate need to suck. They are born with this reflex. Thumb sucking is normal too and if your infant develops this habit, remember it is common. Some children even begin this habit in the womb!

This brings us to question – why do kids suck their thumbs?

Sucking and rooting reflexes come naturally to babies and this causes them to put their fingers or thumb in their mouths. Most children indulge in this habit as it makes them feel secure and soothes them. Babies feel comforted when they suck on a bottle or the breast and hence, as they grow, the sucking routine continues and becomes a way to soothe themselves. This then turns into a habit which they put to use when they feel anxious, feel the need to sleep or when they’re bored, tired, etc.

Thumb Sucking Is Normal–Up To A Certain Point

As babies begin to grow and begin to explore the world around them, the habit of thumb sucking usually decreases over time and even fades away on its own, typically between the ages of 2 and 4. However, past the age of four, the habit should be discouraged. Reason being, prolonged sucking can have a negative impact on the development of your child’s teeth. This habit can have an effect on speech, alignment issues of the lower and upper jaw and change in the formation of the root.

How long does thumb sucking usually last? And when should parents intervene?

Most children stop sucking their fingers or thumbs on their own – between the two to four mark.

Until the permanent teeth come in, it’s not a problem. Once the permanent come in, thumb sucking can affect how the teeth line up, changes to the jaw shape, teeth and bite can be seen, sometimes even speech can be hampered or even the palate can get affected.

Hence, the earlier you try to stop it, the better. Age five should be the maximum, post which intervention is needed.

What can I do to encourage my child to stop thumb sucking?

  • Positive reinforcement – praising your child, small rewards, a gift etc. can go a long way. Few ideas such as a bedtime story, stroll in the park or extra TV time should be put into place when they do not suck their thumb. You can also record the number of days this works.
  • Identify the trigger – Identify why you child is resorting to thumb sucking – is it due to stress? Try to provide comfort in other ways like reassuring words, hugs and kisses. Toys which are stress busters too will help.
  • Gentle reminders – Rather than a way of seeking attention, if without thought the child resorts to sucking then gently remind him or her to stop.
  • Enforce limits – Thumb sucking cannot be stopped instantaneously. Give the child limits – ex: the child can indulge in thumb sucking only at night in bed. Slowly over time, this habit should ware off.
  • A replacement skill to cope – An alternative way of coping will help the child overcome the habit in an improved manner. Give them a fidget or a toy to meddle with when stressed or anxious.
  • Pointing out the habit and talking to the child about it – Not all children are necessarily aware that they are sucking on their thumbs. Pointing it out and explaining why it isn’t good for them can help. This not only makes them more self-aware but also aids in them putting an end to the habit.

Take your dentist’s help – Dentists can help your child understand how this habit is bad and what their effects are. So don’t be afraid to seek help!

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