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Thumb Sucking FAQ's

My child continues to suck her thumb. What should i do?

It is perfectly normal for a young child to suck her thumb, bite her nails or carry a security blanket. Most school children have these habits. These unconscious, nervous habits are usually caused by tension. Do not try to stop your child through force or ridicule. The child will learn self control by herself, as she grows older. She will become more conscious of her appearance and learn socially appropriate behaviour. 

How damaging is thumb-sucking for my baby's teeth?

It is a fact that thumb-sucking can result in your baby's upper front teeth being pushed forward and the lower teeth back. The extent to which the teeth are displaced will depend on how long the baby sucks her thumb and how she positions her thumb. This displacement of teeth is not permanent, i.e. it only affects the baby's milk teeth. The child's permanent teeth come in around the age of six, so as long as thumb-sucking is curtailed before this age, there should be no permanent damage to the child's teeth. However, as mentioned earlier, this is debatable. Sometimes the child's jaw line and palette can get disturbed, which could have an effect on the child's permanent teeth as well. She could also develop a lisp. 

Is the reason behind my child's thumb-sucking, psychological?

If your child occasionally sucks his thumb but generally seems happy and well-adjusted, there is no cause for concern. However, thumb-sucking can be an indication of maladjustment or lack of love. Parents should try to identify what is bothering the child and then set it right if possible. May be your child needs companionship, or may be you are being too restrictive or not providing enough stimulation and distraction. There could be any number of reasons.

How can I help my child overcome thumb-sucking?

1. If your child is less than 4 years old:

  • Thumb-sucking should be considered normal before the age of 4 and ignored, especially if your child is sick or tired.
  • If thumb-sucking occurs when your child is bored and is over a year old, try to distract him - give him something to do with his hands.
  • Occasionally praise your child for not sucking his thumb.
  • Does your child increase his thumb-sucking when he's with his other security items like a stuffed animal? If the answer is yes, these should be removed also as it may trigger the thumb-sucking habit in his case. If the answer is no, maybe you could try distracting him with his favourite stuffed animal or blanket as an alternate form of security. 
  • Until your child is old enough to understand, any pressure you apply to stop thumb-sucking will only lead to resistance and lack of cooperation.

2. After 4 years of age, help your child give up thumb-sucking during the day

  • Get your child's commitment to give up thumb-sucking by showing him the harmful effects on his teeth
  • Appeal to his sense of pride
  • Ask your child if it will be alright if you remind him when he forgets
  • Encourage your child to remind himself by painting a star or applying band-aid on his thumb.
  • Use a mild physical deterrent such as wrapping a piece of adhesive tape around the thumb. This could turn an unconscious habit into a conscious event. The tape should be loosely wound and not smooth. 
  • If your child finds himself sucking his thumb, tell him to immediately start doing something else with his thumb - like putting it inside his fist for 10 seconds, or twirling his thumbs.
  • Praise your child whenever he is not sucking his thumb in situations when he previously did.
  • Give him a star in his chart or reward at the end of any day during which he did not suck her thumb at all. At pre-arranged stages, reward him with toys or outings.
  • Avoid pulling the thumb out of your child's mouth

3. After daytime control is established, help your child give up thumb-sucking during sleep

  • Thumb-sucking during naps and at night is usually an involuntary process. 
The following techniques can be followed:

a)  Make your child wear long-sleeved nightwear, which will make it     difficult for him to get his hand out from the sleeve and start sucking his thumb at night. 

b) Wrap an elastic bandage across his elbow and waist. Pressure exerted by the bandage removes the digit from the mouth as the child tires and falls asleep.

4. Bring thumb-sucking to the attention of your child's dentist if your child still hasn't kicked the habit by the time he turns 6.

5. Do not scold, slap your child's hands or do anything to punish him for   sucking.

6. Use an agreed upon keyword like tyrannosaurus or chewing gum to remind your child in public that he is thumb-sucking, without causing him embarrassment.

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