From binky to thumb! Oh no!

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 28, 2009 06:00 AM

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Hello,

Recently my wife and I weened our daughter off of the beloved "binky" (thing they suck on / chew toy / projectile!). We let her know in advance that we thought the "Binky Fairy" may be coming soon and would leave her a gift, but in return the binky would be gone forever. Our daughter asked where it would go. We told her that a new little baby would receive it. That seemed to work for her.

The day came, the binky disappeared and a nicely wrapped gift awaited her in her room when she woke up. She was thrilled, opened the gift to find a doll, now aptly named the binky fairy doll and she understands the binky is now a thing of the past.

Now she sucks her thumb! I liked the binky fairy deal, the binky is gone, out of sight out of mind. I can't lop off her thumbs, that seems just a little excessive! What can we do to encourage not sucking on our thumb?

From: Blame me, Portsmouth

Hi Blame me!

Learn to love her thumb.

I know you don't like that answer but here's why I think it's the best advice I can give you: Sucking her thumb is a source of comfort for your daughter. That's something every child needs.

Listen, you deserve a lot of credit for the Binky Fairy and your lead-up to it. But your daughter deserves even more credit. She figured out how to cope without her beloved binky! She's a problem solver!

Most children simply out grow thumb sucking at some point. OK, maybe not as young as you'd like, but the good news for you is that girls are more likely to recognize that it's a babyish activity and to feel self-conscious and give it up at age 4 or so. At about that age, you can push the process along by telling her that thumbsucking is for going to sleep.

There are lots of products out there to put on the thumb so it won't taste good. I think that's plain mean. There's the possibility that prolonged thumb sucking means you might end up with orthodontist bills. What are the chances you'd do that anyway? There are plenty of parents who embarrass their child every time he/she sucks. That makes me cringe.

Life is stressful, even for kids. What could be more wonderful than having a way to alleviate that stress right there, attached to your hand? Trust me, she will not be sucking her thumb on her wedding day.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
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18 comments so far...
  1. My yougest daughter sucked her thumb from the time she could figure out how to get it to her mouth until about 5 years old. It was a great comfort to her and never got lost like a binky does. She has beautiful teeth and no lasting effects. Her 2 year old daughter sucks her thumb now, and again I think it is great security for her. I also have to admit that it is the cutest thing I ever saw!

    Posted by Gretchen Wood October 28, 09 09:10 AM
  1. The only thing I would add is that if a child persists in sucking their thumb far past a typical developmental age, rather than shame or bribery, try looking for some underlying reason why the child might be stressed out and needing comfort and reassurance. I sucked my thumb until I was 11... and it turned out that I had severe ADD, that was missed because a) I wasn't hyperactive; b) I'm a girl, and at the time it was far more common for boys to be diagnosed than girls; c) I'm pretty intelligent, so when I managed to focus I did very, very well, and that let teachers convince themselves that I was just lazy (which was devastating to my self-esteem, but that's another story); and d) ADD wasn't "in" yet (I'm 34 now).

    I can, however, imagine far more ominous reasons why a child could continue to suck their thumbs for comfort past the usual age of 4 or 5, including abuse. So again, instead of shame, try looking deeper to see if the child has a reason why they need to comfort or sooth or steady themselves. It could make a HUGE difference in that child's life.

    Posted by Overwhelmed as a child October 28, 09 10:19 AM
  1. I weaned my firstborn off the binky at 10 months. My 8 month old has one but early infancy she often put her thumb in her mouth when she didn't have the bink so I always would pull her thumb away and replace it with a binky. She doesn't put her thumb in her mouth anymore...well for now anyway. I hope she does not turn into a thumbsucker!!!! Like the poster said, you can take away the binky but not the thumb. and yes I have seen many kids that suck their thumbs that have jacked teeth. But I guess that they could have had jacked teeth regardless.. .Either way, I hope to wean the binky at no later than a year old. but I cringe when i see a child 2 years or so and older with one. But sucking their thumb...I would be trying to wean her from that too.

    Posted by jadee October 28, 09 10:29 AM
  1. But it's not a clean habit. It's potentially quite a dangerous one for children in daycares or preschools. What a highly efficient way of ingesting as many germs as possible.

    And I think the teeth issue is a big one, sorry. Perhaps everyone likes to spend $5-7,000 on orthodontia per child to keep up with the Joneses, but not us. It's a huge financial drain.

    There are other ways of making children feel safe and secure. Blankies or a favorite toy or book to carry around and sleep with. As the parent in the post demonstrated, creativity goes a long way. I'm sure there's a way to gently discourage the thumb-sucking as well.

    Posted by just1voice October 28, 09 10:59 AM
  1. It never ceases to amaze me how parents are fixated on their childrens' pacifiers and thumbs. If you look at what adults do-drinking, smoking drugs and food, you realize how innocuous their habits are. Leave you child alone and worry about yourself!!

    Posted by mark stone October 28, 09 11:36 AM
  1. Thumb sucking is not just a health issue for the child. I have a memory of my daughter refusing to "join hands in a circle" at preschool with the thumb-sucking child to her side. I guess this is the kind of social pressure to give up the habit that Barbara referred to, but it takes a fair amount of conviction on the part of a non-thumb-sucking 4-year-old to refuse the pre-school teacher's edict to join hands. Perhaps asking the thumb-sucking child to wash their hands (non judgmentally - "oh--your thumb was in your mouth -- you need to wash hands before circle time") would provide just enough incentive, and keep the friends healthy as well.

    I have a niece who sucked her thumb a great deal until she was six. She got a dental appliance when she was seven to prevent the habit. She now will need surgery to correct a hole in her palate, and has had several years of speech therapy. Please don't let your kids suck their thumbs once their permanent teeth erupt!

    Posted by gastrogal October 28, 09 02:04 PM
  1. Apparently you have to be careful what you wish for. It's clear she's using it to cope with stress and to comfort herself. I sucked my thumb until I was almost 10 and the *only* thing that worked was basically a deal that I'd get my ears pierced if I stopped (something only "big girls" do, not "little girls" who suck their thumb). I sat on my hands for several days and eventually it stopped on its own at night. My teeth were a wreck by then but I would've needed orthodontics anyway. The other thing that was important was not doing it at school -- teased mercilessly in my 1st school but didn't do it in the 2nd school after we had moved (for other reasons) at age 9.

    I agree -- it's disgusting in terms of germs and can really mess up her teeth but you have to find other ways for your daughter to comfort herself. Just try not to use shame. (And that disgusting-tasting stuff comes off after the first few sucks, so don't use that either).

    Posted by RecoveredThumbsucker October 28, 09 02:40 PM
  1. Two kids both came out of the womb thumb sucking - pacifiers pacified but once they were gone back to the thumb - especially at night and every night in their sleep eventually only thing that "worked" was an orthodontic piece called a habit breaker (nasty) that is now in its seventh month - appears to be working but on top of that we are now into a palate expander (less nasty but still intrusive) that has to be manually cranked in order to push out the sides of the upper jaw and get them back to alignment before the plates fuse.

    Posted by takeanytiki October 28, 09 05:09 PM
  1. Both of my children sucked their thumbs from 3 days old and they both stopped when they were ready (kindergarten/1st grade). By the time they were five, they rarely did it outside of bed time. I never stressed about it b/c I figured they would not be going to college with thumbs in their mouths. Also, as far as orthodontics are concerned, my daughter's first two bottom teeth came in crooked - which was not linked to her thumb sucking - but rather genetics; whether or not I want to pay, she is getting braces. And you would never be able to tell by looking at them today that they sucked their thumbs.

    Posted by Momoftwo October 28, 09 09:04 PM
  1. For night-time thumb sucking, speech pathologists will recommend gently wrapping the arm in an ace wrap at night so that the elbow can not bend and the thumb can not make it into the mouth. After a week of night-time wrapping, most children are over the night-time habit.

    The ace wrap needs to be secure enough to prevent the elbow from bending but not so secure as to compromise blood circulation to the arm and hand.

    Posted by hoping this is of help October 28, 09 09:28 PM
  1. I have a tip to distract your daughter from thumbsucking, and it teaches her about germs: My child came home from school saying they learned to cough and sneeze into their elbows with Germie Wormie. I went to the website, and now I understand why and hands touch, elbows don't!! Kids can touch up to 300 surfaces in 1/2 an hour, and they hate to wash their hands. This is a simple thing that can make a huge difference. Kids as young as 1 1/2 can learn this. There is also an entertaining DVD that teaches kids how to do this and reinforces other important hygiene habits.

    Posted by Mary October 28, 09 11:07 PM
  1. I'm a forty year old man's man.....I'm in shape, I don't drink or smoke. Don't even drink coffee......but I suck my thumb all the time........and you know what??? I love it.

    Never had a dental problem either.......If thumb sucking is your biggest "problem".....then you're doing just fine.

    Posted by Fred Arborgast October 28, 09 11:13 PM
  1. binkies and thumbsucking and adults with alcohol and smoking.... Two different things. Adults are perfectly aware (or should be anyway)of damage they do...children do not. Wean the children at the appropriate times from both binky and thumbs... period. I agree that parents shouldn't use shame to do it but do your job as parents and do what needs to be done.

    Posted by jadee October 29, 09 07:57 AM
  1. Two daughters -- two thumbsuckers. One stopped at 6 with the incentive of an art kit that she had picked out and I bought and socked away for 30 days past the habit. It worked but she needed nearly 3 years of ortho work to fix a severe overbite (and yes, kids teased her about this). Now, she's a teenager and crews her nails and all the skin around them -- talk about disgusting! Daughter two sucked her thumb until she was 8 and only stopped after begging to get her ears pierced. I used it as incentive. She still has trouble soothing herself and is prone to frequent angry outbursts. She's in line for ortho work too. Meanwhile, my mother would not allow me to suck my thumb when I was a baby. She made a small glove that covered my entire hand, and even made another for my firstborn, but it seemed cruel and I didn't use it. Perhaps I should have!

    Posted by FundingOrtho'sCollegeFund October 29, 09 08:31 AM
  1. gastrogal - its hard to believe that a 3 or 4 year old refused to hold hands with another during play time unless (MoM -aka- you) brain washed her/him. 3 and 4 year old's just don't think like that! And I have worked with 3 to 7 years old's for over 30 years!!

    Posted by Meme October 29, 09 09:05 AM
  1. Kids growing up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, didn't have asthma, allergies, autism, and other problems en masse. We were exposed to germs, second hand smoke, and the Three Stooges. We got all our immunizations on time.

    Now, parents hyperworry about every little thing, wipe down the entire world with Clorox, and the kids are neurotic, medicated, and germ- and stranger-phobic.

    Let a kid have a binky or a thumb or a blankie. And a little dirt on the side. JUST RELAX - it doesn't have to be this hard, honest!

    Posted by fiftyandproud October 29, 09 09:55 AM
  1. Our daughter never used a binky - but she's a nighttime thumbsucker. If she starts sucking her thumb while she's awake during the day, it means that it's naptime. Her thumb helps her get to sleep and frankly, it's wicked cute. She'll grow out of it eventually, but it's nice to know that she takes comfort in it now.

    Posted by phe October 29, 09 11:07 AM
  1. Maybe if you'd come out and told the kid she's too big to go around sucking on things, instead of lying about a Binkie Fairy, it would have turned out differently.

    Posted by di October 30, 09 07:14 PM
 
18 comments so far...
  1. My yougest daughter sucked her thumb from the time she could figure out how to get it to her mouth until about 5 years old. It was a great comfort to her and never got lost like a binky does. She has beautiful teeth and no lasting effects. Her 2 year old daughter sucks her thumb now, and again I think it is great security for her. I also have to admit that it is the cutest thing I ever saw!

    Posted by Gretchen Wood October 28, 09 09:10 AM
  1. The only thing I would add is that if a child persists in sucking their thumb far past a typical developmental age, rather than shame or bribery, try looking for some underlying reason why the child might be stressed out and needing comfort and reassurance. I sucked my thumb until I was 11... and it turned out that I had severe ADD, that was missed because a) I wasn't hyperactive; b) I'm a girl, and at the time it was far more common for boys to be diagnosed than girls; c) I'm pretty intelligent, so when I managed to focus I did very, very well, and that let teachers convince themselves that I was just lazy (which was devastating to my self-esteem, but that's another story); and d) ADD wasn't "in" yet (I'm 34 now).

    I can, however, imagine far more ominous reasons why a child could continue to suck their thumbs for comfort past the usual age of 4 or 5, including abuse. So again, instead of shame, try looking deeper to see if the child has a reason why they need to comfort or sooth or steady themselves. It could make a HUGE difference in that child's life.

    Posted by Overwhelmed as a child October 28, 09 10:19 AM
  1. I weaned my firstborn off the binky at 10 months. My 8 month old has one but early infancy she often put her thumb in her mouth when she didn't have the bink so I always would pull her thumb away and replace it with a binky. She doesn't put her thumb in her mouth anymore...well for now anyway. I hope she does not turn into a thumbsucker!!!! Like the poster said, you can take away the binky but not the thumb. and yes I have seen many kids that suck their thumbs that have jacked teeth. But I guess that they could have had jacked teeth regardless.. .Either way, I hope to wean the binky at no later than a year old. but I cringe when i see a child 2 years or so and older with one. But sucking their thumb...I would be trying to wean her from that too.

    Posted by jadee October 28, 09 10:29 AM
  1. But it's not a clean habit. It's potentially quite a dangerous one for children in daycares or preschools. What a highly efficient way of ingesting as many germs as possible.

    And I think the teeth issue is a big one, sorry. Perhaps everyone likes to spend $5-7,000 on orthodontia per child to keep up with the Joneses, but not us. It's a huge financial drain.

    There are other ways of making children feel safe and secure. Blankies or a favorite toy or book to carry around and sleep with. As the parent in the post demonstrated, creativity goes a long way. I'm sure there's a way to gently discourage the thumb-sucking as well.

    Posted by just1voice October 28, 09 10:59 AM
  1. It never ceases to amaze me how parents are fixated on their childrens' pacifiers and thumbs. If you look at what adults do-drinking, smoking drugs and food, you realize how innocuous their habits are. Leave you child alone and worry about yourself!!

    Posted by mark stone October 28, 09 11:36 AM
  1. Thumb sucking is not just a health issue for the child. I have a memory of my daughter refusing to "join hands in a circle" at preschool with the thumb-sucking child to her side. I guess this is the kind of social pressure to give up the habit that Barbara referred to, but it takes a fair amount of conviction on the part of a non-thumb-sucking 4-year-old to refuse the pre-school teacher's edict to join hands. Perhaps asking the thumb-sucking child to wash their hands (non judgmentally - "oh--your thumb was in your mouth -- you need to wash hands before circle time") would provide just enough incentive, and keep the friends healthy as well.

    I have a niece who sucked her thumb a great deal until she was six. She got a dental appliance when she was seven to prevent the habit. She now will need surgery to correct a hole in her palate, and has had several years of speech therapy. Please don't let your kids suck their thumbs once their permanent teeth erupt!

    Posted by gastrogal October 28, 09 02:04 PM
  1. Apparently you have to be careful what you wish for. It's clear she's using it to cope with stress and to comfort herself. I sucked my thumb until I was almost 10 and the *only* thing that worked was basically a deal that I'd get my ears pierced if I stopped (something only "big girls" do, not "little girls" who suck their thumb). I sat on my hands for several days and eventually it stopped on its own at night. My teeth were a wreck by then but I would've needed orthodontics anyway. The other thing that was important was not doing it at school -- teased mercilessly in my 1st school but didn't do it in the 2nd school after we had moved (for other reasons) at age 9.

    I agree -- it's disgusting in terms of germs and can really mess up her teeth but you have to find other ways for your daughter to comfort herself. Just try not to use shame. (And that disgusting-tasting stuff comes off after the first few sucks, so don't use that either).

    Posted by RecoveredThumbsucker October 28, 09 02:40 PM
  1. Two kids both came out of the womb thumb sucking - pacifiers pacified but once they were gone back to the thumb - especially at night and every night in their sleep eventually only thing that "worked" was an orthodontic piece called a habit breaker (nasty) that is now in its seventh month - appears to be working but on top of that we are now into a palate expander (less nasty but still intrusive) that has to be manually cranked in order to push out the sides of the upper jaw and get them back to alignment before the plates fuse.

    Posted by takeanytiki October 28, 09 05:09 PM
  1. Both of my children sucked their thumbs from 3 days old and they both stopped when they were ready (kindergarten/1st grade). By the time they were five, they rarely did it outside of bed time. I never stressed about it b/c I figured they would not be going to college with thumbs in their mouths. Also, as far as orthodontics are concerned, my daughter's first two bottom teeth came in crooked - which was not linked to her thumb sucking - but rather genetics; whether or not I want to pay, she is getting braces. And you would never be able to tell by looking at them today that they sucked their thumbs.

    Posted by Momoftwo October 28, 09 09:04 PM
  1. For night-time thumb sucking, speech pathologists will recommend gently wrapping the arm in an ace wrap at night so that the elbow can not bend and the thumb can not make it into the mouth. After a week of night-time wrapping, most children are over the night-time habit.

    The ace wrap needs to be secure enough to prevent the elbow from bending but not so secure as to compromise blood circulation to the arm and hand.

    Posted by hoping this is of help October 28, 09 09:28 PM
  1. I have a tip to distract your daughter from thumbsucking, and it teaches her about germs: My child came home from school saying they learned to cough and sneeze into their elbows with Germie Wormie. I went to the website, and now I understand why and hands touch, elbows don't!! Kids can touch up to 300 surfaces in 1/2 an hour, and they hate to wash their hands. This is a simple thing that can make a huge difference. Kids as young as 1 1/2 can learn this. There is also an entertaining DVD that teaches kids how to do this and reinforces other important hygiene habits.

    Posted by Mary October 28, 09 11:07 PM
  1. I'm a forty year old man's man.....I'm in shape, I don't drink or smoke. Don't even drink coffee......but I suck my thumb all the time........and you know what??? I love it.

    Never had a dental problem either.......If thumb sucking is your biggest "problem".....then you're doing just fine.

    Posted by Fred Arborgast October 28, 09 11:13 PM
  1. binkies and thumbsucking and adults with alcohol and smoking.... Two different things. Adults are perfectly aware (or should be anyway)of damage they do...children do not. Wean the children at the appropriate times from both binky and thumbs... period. I agree that parents shouldn't use shame to do it but do your job as parents and do what needs to be done.

    Posted by jadee October 29, 09 07:57 AM
  1. Two daughters -- two thumbsuckers. One stopped at 6 with the incentive of an art kit that she had picked out and I bought and socked away for 30 days past the habit. It worked but she needed nearly 3 years of ortho work to fix a severe overbite (and yes, kids teased her about this). Now, she's a teenager and crews her nails and all the skin around them -- talk about disgusting! Daughter two sucked her thumb until she was 8 and only stopped after begging to get her ears pierced. I used it as incentive. She still has trouble soothing herself and is prone to frequent angry outbursts. She's in line for ortho work too. Meanwhile, my mother would not allow me to suck my thumb when I was a baby. She made a small glove that covered my entire hand, and even made another for my firstborn, but it seemed cruel and I didn't use it. Perhaps I should have!

    Posted by FundingOrtho'sCollegeFund October 29, 09 08:31 AM
  1. gastrogal - its hard to believe that a 3 or 4 year old refused to hold hands with another during play time unless (MoM -aka- you) brain washed her/him. 3 and 4 year old's just don't think like that! And I have worked with 3 to 7 years old's for over 30 years!!

    Posted by Meme October 29, 09 09:05 AM
  1. Kids growing up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, didn't have asthma, allergies, autism, and other problems en masse. We were exposed to germs, second hand smoke, and the Three Stooges. We got all our immunizations on time.

    Now, parents hyperworry about every little thing, wipe down the entire world with Clorox, and the kids are neurotic, medicated, and germ- and stranger-phobic.

    Let a kid have a binky or a thumb or a blankie. And a little dirt on the side. JUST RELAX - it doesn't have to be this hard, honest!

    Posted by fiftyandproud October 29, 09 09:55 AM
  1. Our daughter never used a binky - but she's a nighttime thumbsucker. If she starts sucking her thumb while she's awake during the day, it means that it's naptime. Her thumb helps her get to sleep and frankly, it's wicked cute. She'll grow out of it eventually, but it's nice to know that she takes comfort in it now.

    Posted by phe October 29, 09 11:07 AM
  1. Maybe if you'd come out and told the kid she's too big to go around sucking on things, instead of lying about a Binkie Fairy, it would have turned out differently.

    Posted by di October 30, 09 07:14 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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