I'm not sure I've seen this topic covered here, but I'm hoping you have some thoughts to share. What's the deal with thumb-sucking? My 4-year-old is a pretty regular thumb sucker. I've really never given it much thought, since I was a thumb sucker myself. But recently her dentist and preschool teacher are "suggesting" I get her to stop. I can see that at preschool it's a germ thing, but she doesn't like the idea of giving it up when I've tried to talk to her about it.
A family friend is a pediatrician (though not hers) and said that if the dentist says braces are already needed, then it's not worth the emotional trauma to make her stop if she's not ready.
I just wonder if I've done, or am doing, something wrong that makes her suck her thumb at this age anyway? Is she scarred for life?? (Of course I don't really believe that.) The great irony in all this is that I was so against pacifiers because I hate the look of a grown kid with a paci in their mouth.
Her little brother is also a thumb sucker, so I'm hoping maybe I can end this for both of them at the same time. Possible?
Thanks for your advice. I agree with a lot of what you have to say, so I'm curious to know your thoughts on this.
From: Recovered sucker, Reading, MA
Dear Recovered Sucker,
Don't waste any energy wondering what you "did wrong." A child sucks his/her thumb as a way to self-soothe. It's an adaptive behavior, a coping mechanism, and, in my opinion, a pretty swell one at that.
There are three reasons why adults want to put an end to a child's thumb-sucking: (1) Fear that it will create a need (not to mention expense and discomfort) for braces; (2) Worry that it's an unattractive and potentially unsanitary habit; (3) Anxiety that a child will be teased by age-mates for being a "baby."
I'm with your pediatrician friend.
If it's already obvious your son will need braces, it's not worth the emotional toll it will take on all of you. (Actually, I would say that even if it wasn't already obvious he'll need braces.) Plus, many thumb-suckers (girls more than boys) realize at some point (usually before K) that thumb-sucking might be babyish and they begin to self-censor, limiting the sucking to when they are in the car or before going to sleep. My advice to parents is to tell a child of 4 or older, "It's OK to suck your thumb, but some people might tease you, so you might want to think about sucking your thumb in privacy, like when you're in the car or before you go to sleep."
The biggest problem I've ever seen is when parents disagree about thumb-sucking: it bothers one parent a lot and the other parent not at all, becoming an issue not just for the parent and child but also for parent and parent. I'm really against using products that make the thumb taste bad; that's just plain mean. I'm also against parents who think it's fine to embarrass their child in front of other people; that's plain wrong.
My advice (full disclosure: I'm speaking from experience): learn to love that little thumb and bless the day your brilliant child discovered a free stress-reducer right at the end of his hand.
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