Thumb-sucking: Learn to love that free stress-reducer on your child's hand

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  November 10, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

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.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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24 comments so far...
  1. I would like to add that thumb sucking has the potential to lead to speech problems (by pushing the thumb up under the tongue). My son had to go to a speech pathologist for several years to correct his speech impediment caused by thumb sucking. Thumb sucking certainly doesn't cause speech problems in all children, but it is something to look out for - if she's four you would have noticed the speech issue by now.

    Posted by Linda November 10, 10 08:58 AM
  1. It's a great stress reducer for adults too and it may help to use it when trying to stop smoking.

    Posted by Kathleen November 10, 10 09:01 AM
  1. I sucked my thumb regularly until I was ten years old. At the very end I realized I was much too old for it and had to stop, and it was difficult. It really felt like an addiction to me at the time and I made myself quit cold turkey.

    I turned out fine and I'm sure your kid will, too. But it's not always something that goes away easily for kids, like many things.

    Posted by mw November 10, 10 09:04 AM
  1. I totally agree with Barbara. Thumb sucking is one of those things that parents waste a lot of time and energy stressing about when kids are small, but that eventually goes away pretty much on its own. I watched a good friend create unnecessary anxiety in herself and her three-year-old child, trying to get her to stop sucking her fingers--while I took the laid-back approach with my own child. This is just what felt right to me. My child eventually gave the habit up completely on her own. (and I might add--not all that much later than when the friend's child officially gave it up --but with zero stress and trauma along the way) And my daughter, on her own, transitioned from doing it anytime, anyplace when she was a young toddler, to doing it privately to soothe herself before bed when she was a preschooler and kindergartener. Luckily, my family dentist and my pediatrician were supportive of this approach. As far as I'm concerned, thumb/finger sucking is in the category of "this too shall pass." Enjoy kids when they are little--they grow up so fast, and you'll be wishing for the days when thumb sucking was your biggest problem.

    Posted by Kim November 10, 10 09:10 AM
  1. I could write a book on this! Both my boys, 9 and 5, were thumb suckers. The 5 year old still is though he self censors. I can't tell you how many dentists and orthodontists I went to asking for an appliance to stop my older son from sucking. Finally, I met an orthodontist who's wife is a child psychologist. He told me to let it go. Short of chopping off the offending digit there was nothing I could do until my son wanted to stop. If I forced the issue, the sucking would quite possibly be replaced with an even less desirable habit--hair twirling, scratching for younger kids, smoking, drinking or eating disorders for older kids. My son was already self censoring so he knew when he was sucking and he did it to soothe himself. The orthodontist then had a wonderful "man to man" chat with my son and told him when he wanted to quit to come in and they would figure out how. Towards the end of this summer he realized several of his friends were starting to have sleepovers and he couldn't possibly go if he were to suck his thumb in bed. He was ready! The first week he had trouble falling asleep, but by the end of the second week he was pretty much done. We continued the behavior modification techniques until the end of the month and he hasn't looked back. I realize now that it had to be on his terms. He had to manage this for himself. I've seen some real maturing in him since he made this decision for himself. I have laid off the 5 year old until he says he is ready for his chat with Dr. Ken. I would include Dr. Ken's contact information, but, alas, we live in Illinois. Good luck, this too will pass.

    Posted by been there, conquered that November 10, 10 09:31 AM
  1. Any suggestions for a 11 year old daughter who still sucks her thumb? she still has beatutiful teeth, but dentist is warning that she may need braces if she continues.

    She does it in private. She has tried to stop many times, but clearly needs to do it when she is tired

    Posted by Roberta November 10, 10 09:49 AM
  1. My daughter sucked her thumb for years and guess what! She does not need braces. Go figure.

    I think you need to do what you think is best for the child. My pediatrician told me that this was a stress reducer and a way for little kids to console themselves. He told me that the child would stop when she was good and ready. That's exactly what happened. So unless the dentist can show you concrete evidence that the teeth are in trouble due to thumb sucking, then I would not put the child through hell just to mollify other people "who think' that it "MIGHT" be a problem. You are the parent, not all these other nosy people!!!

    Posted by Leslie November 10, 10 10:44 AM
  1. Stop stressing about it. My now 26 year old, PhD-degreed son sucked his thumb until he was 8 years old, (we narrowed it down to when he was tired). The dentist, preschool and elementary teachers all fussed at us about it and we fell for it for a while. My son did not have to have braces and I, as a non-thumb sucker DID have to wear braces so there is not an automatic causal effect. The teasing is a very legitimate concern and thus we worked with our son to self-monitor when he knew he was getting tired. He's a brillant young man and has traveled the world. Pick your battles wisely, you'll have plenty more opportunities :)

    Posted by ALL November 10, 10 11:13 AM
  1. How do people reconcile the common sense warning to the child that he or she may be teased for thumbsucking beyond the socially accepted age, with the currently popular concept that all teasing is socially unacceptable and borders on bullying?

    This question would go for anything a child does which is to some degree within his or her control (not a true disability or limitation) and which goes beyond the broad range of what is considered socially within bounds for the kid's age--babytalk, bottle or sippy cup, nosepicking, demanding to wear Barney slippers out of the house instead of shoes, etc.


    Posted by di November 10, 10 12:15 PM
  1. Aww I sucked mine till I was 12. However, even when I was younger it was limited to in our house. My dad used to threaten that he would stick my thumb in vinegar, but he never did.
    Like someone said above, it was very hard to quit. I didn't end up with a speech delay/impediment. I needed braces but never got them, not sure if it was because of the thumb sucking though! My advice would be not to try and stop it. Maybe have an age appropriate chat about not doing it outside of the house (in school), but that would be it.

    Posted by AM November 10, 10 12:21 PM
  1. I can see that, anecdotally, not all dedicated thumb suckers will require braces, and there are plenty of kids who never sucked their thumbs who will end up needing them. But certain kids suck their thumbs with such force and intensity that they do real harm, especially if they continue when their secondary teeth are coming in. I'd pay more attention to what the dentist has to say than the preschool teacher on this.

    I have a niece who was an intense thumb sucker, through age 8. She finally stopped with the help of a removable dental appliance, but not before she needed minor surgery to fix a hole in her palate, several years of speech therapy and help to correct a tongue thrust swallowing habit. Her facial structure has become elongated. The braces to re-align the teeth are the easy part, but they are not usually covered by insurance. If you can keep the orthodontia to a minimum you will save your child some discomfort, save yourself some money, and avoid spending quite so many days racing to the orthodontist after school.

    Posted by gastrogal November 10, 10 01:13 PM
  1. Would love to hear more from older (10 years of age and over) thumb-suckers or their parents

    Posted by Santanna November 10, 10 01:19 PM
  1. My grandson is 21 and sucks his thumb when he is relaxing. We tease him but he doesn't care. His teeth and speech are perfect.

    Posted by winnie reed November 10, 10 02:14 PM
  1. I sucked my thumb until I was 12. My father hated it and once doused my thumb in Tabasco sauce to keep me from sucking (result: screaming kid who's mouth is burning and who cannot sleep because she can't suck her thumb). Mom didn't like it either but I think she didn't want to hurt me to make me stop. She used the "you'll need braces" threat instead.

    How and why I stopped is funny but informative: a beloved aunt gave me a beautiful teddy bear from Bloomingdales. I cuddled up to it one night and suddenly found I didn't need my thumb.

    I was a kid with high anxiety and trouble sleeping. The thumb soothed me until the bear came along. Honestly, I slept with the bear every night unless sleeping with a partner until I met my husband and gave him up for good. He's still in my bedroom, and I am not a stuffed animal kind of person. There's just a random teddy bear in our room!

    If you want it to stop, you have to work on the cause. The thumb sucking is just a symptom. I also bit my nails, a habit I still struggle with, and pick at pimples. All these things are related. At the same time, I grew up to be a well-balanced professional with great teeth, so keep things in perspective. The threatened braces never materialized, I just wore a retainer for a year or so. This is not on par with more serious mental issues a child might suffer.

    Reading this letter and the other posts really brought back the memories - I can say with 100% certainty that efforts to stop me from doing this were ineffective. I stopped when I was ready and have suffered very few adverse effects because of it.

    I'd also add to di's point (#9). All bullying is bad. If your child is bullied for thumb sucking, why would you take the bully's side by reinforcing the message that there is something "wrong" with the child? Tell you child the same thing you would if the bullying focused on her height or hair color: that bullies are mean people who hurt to feel better about their own insecurities.

    Hope this helps, Santanna. I will check back if you have more specific questions!

    Q

    Posted by Q November 10, 10 03:06 PM
  1. My brother got endless crap about his thumb sucking as a child. My Mom and former Stepfather tried all manner of creative and cruel ways to get him to stop it, to no avail. The big, scary threat was that he was going to need braces, he was going to need speech therapy, etc. Well, he didn't quit until years and years after he was pushed to quit. He has perfect teeth and an excellent voice and never needed braces and speech therapy. I think a lot of speech therapy problems are blamed on thumb sucking when it is unrelated.

    Posted by Meri November 10, 10 03:21 PM
  1. @ di who wrote: "How do people reconcile the common sense warning to the child that he or she may be teased for thumbsucking beyond the socially accepted age, with the currently popular concept that all teasing is socially unacceptable and borders on bullying?"

    One discusses how things SHOULD be separately from the discussion on how things ARE.

    The world we live in is not ideal - one teaches kids how to cope with the world as it truly is, and helps them figure out how the world should be.

    Plus... who told you that "all teasing is socially unacceptable and borders on bullying?" Teasing is a perfectly normal social interaction at certain ages and social situations... Yes, teasing can be part of bullying scenarios, but it does not constitute bullying by itself. Equating the two is preposterous.

    Posted by H-B-X November 10, 10 04:30 PM
  1. I didn't say *I* equate all teasing with bullying...but there are those out there who do and I agree, it's preposterous.

    Look at comment #14, about a child "bullied" for thumbsucking, apparently responding as if I had said it would be OK. Note that I said, "teased," which all kids are about something, sometime. But why volunteer for it?

    Posted by di November 10, 10 06:50 PM
  1. I sincerely doubt it caused a speech impediment - thumbsucking is so common, I'm sure we would see some epidemiological studies on that but, no, not there. Old pathologists tale, most likely - unless you can produce some cites that google scholar and pubmed can't swing?

    Posted by infoferret November 10, 10 08:56 PM
  1. I was a thumb sucker until I was in 3rd grade. My parents tried EVERYTHING to get me to stop, the nail polish, taping a glove to my hand, taping my thumb, you name it they tried it. However, in the middle of the night, unconsciously, I'd take the glove off, the tape off, and that nail polish was no match for me, would suck it right off. So my mom went to an orthodontist to ask him what he thought and he suggested a 'plate'. It was a metal piece that got cemented to the roof of my mouth, attached to my back molars, and was shaped like a half moon so it hung down in the middle of my mouth. It prevented me from getting my thumb in there and sucking on it because I couldn't close my mouth if my thumb was in there. I had this for a little less than a year and I was cured! I'd say the biggest thing was don't get angry with them for not stopping, it's not easy, and a lot of the times like in the middle of the night or laying on the couch it is very unconscious that they are sucking their thumb. I did have to get braces after but I can tell you I now have great teeth!

    Posted by Boston November 11, 10 07:39 AM
  1. The teddy bear story reminds me of how my family got me to stop thumb-sucking when I was maybe 3 or 4. They told me my arms would be short like my teddy bear's! It actually worked.

    Posted by messkat November 11, 10 08:41 AM
  1. I was in high school before I finally stopped sucking my fingers. By that point, it was limited to bedtime, or if I was really stressed out I would hide in my room. My parents were really hard on me about it, and I was humiliated every time I went to the dentist as they told her about it too. I never ended up with braces, my teeth are perfect.

    Although I really wanted to, it was really difficult to stop - I would imagine it was something like an addiction. I was embarassed and ashamed, but my friends didn't know about it. What finally forced me to stop was when I got my nails done for the prom, and it was uncomfortable to suck my fingers.

    Posted by KD November 12, 10 12:58 PM
  1. My daughter is 12 going on 13, and sucks her thumb even more often now than when she was younger. She had an appliance in her mouth for months to stop the sucking, but she still continues. Unfortunately, her teeth have shifted tremendously, and she will need braces.She doesn't seem to care about this. I wish I had some good advice, but I think I'm the one who needs advice!

    Posted by pfrullo December 2, 10 09:59 AM
  1. I'm 18 and still suck my thumb, never needed braces, doesn't look like I ever will. Getting kids to quit is just time consuming and frustrating for both you and your child, and more importantly, typically ineffective; most children will disregard a parent's demands, bribes, threats, etc. and eventually quit on their own. And if it turns out they don't, like me, well, just be grateful they're not drinking or smoking; remember, it's all about perspective, there are much worse habits out there than thumb sucking. As for the germs, you might actually find yourself at an advantage; sure, kids might go through a period of getting sick more frequently to begin with, but what you'll end up with is a child who has a strong and healthy immune system with antibodies to all sorts of strange diseases.

    Posted by Adrian January 31, 11 10:26 PM
  1. As a child care provider and having all four of my children not dependent on thumb or pacifier! I believe the thumb is a very unsanitary means of soothing... However, the pacifier is not much better interns of leading to speech delays as the thumb! Why not discourage both and provide love and nurturing through real relationships

    Posted by A March 25, 14 10:57 PM
 
24 comments so far...
  1. I would like to add that thumb sucking has the potential to lead to speech problems (by pushing the thumb up under the tongue). My son had to go to a speech pathologist for several years to correct his speech impediment caused by thumb sucking. Thumb sucking certainly doesn't cause speech problems in all children, but it is something to look out for - if she's four you would have noticed the speech issue by now.

    Posted by Linda November 10, 10 08:58 AM
  1. It's a great stress reducer for adults too and it may help to use it when trying to stop smoking.

    Posted by Kathleen November 10, 10 09:01 AM
  1. I sucked my thumb regularly until I was ten years old. At the very end I realized I was much too old for it and had to stop, and it was difficult. It really felt like an addiction to me at the time and I made myself quit cold turkey.

    I turned out fine and I'm sure your kid will, too. But it's not always something that goes away easily for kids, like many things.

    Posted by mw November 10, 10 09:04 AM
  1. I totally agree with Barbara. Thumb sucking is one of those things that parents waste a lot of time and energy stressing about when kids are small, but that eventually goes away pretty much on its own. I watched a good friend create unnecessary anxiety in herself and her three-year-old child, trying to get her to stop sucking her fingers--while I took the laid-back approach with my own child. This is just what felt right to me. My child eventually gave the habit up completely on her own. (and I might add--not all that much later than when the friend's child officially gave it up --but with zero stress and trauma along the way) And my daughter, on her own, transitioned from doing it anytime, anyplace when she was a young toddler, to doing it privately to soothe herself before bed when she was a preschooler and kindergartener. Luckily, my family dentist and my pediatrician were supportive of this approach. As far as I'm concerned, thumb/finger sucking is in the category of "this too shall pass." Enjoy kids when they are little--they grow up so fast, and you'll be wishing for the days when thumb sucking was your biggest problem.

    Posted by Kim November 10, 10 09:10 AM
  1. I could write a book on this! Both my boys, 9 and 5, were thumb suckers. The 5 year old still is though he self censors. I can't tell you how many dentists and orthodontists I went to asking for an appliance to stop my older son from sucking. Finally, I met an orthodontist who's wife is a child psychologist. He told me to let it go. Short of chopping off the offending digit there was nothing I could do until my son wanted to stop. If I forced the issue, the sucking would quite possibly be replaced with an even less desirable habit--hair twirling, scratching for younger kids, smoking, drinking or eating disorders for older kids. My son was already self censoring so he knew when he was sucking and he did it to soothe himself. The orthodontist then had a wonderful "man to man" chat with my son and told him when he wanted to quit to come in and they would figure out how. Towards the end of this summer he realized several of his friends were starting to have sleepovers and he couldn't possibly go if he were to suck his thumb in bed. He was ready! The first week he had trouble falling asleep, but by the end of the second week he was pretty much done. We continued the behavior modification techniques until the end of the month and he hasn't looked back. I realize now that it had to be on his terms. He had to manage this for himself. I've seen some real maturing in him since he made this decision for himself. I have laid off the 5 year old until he says he is ready for his chat with Dr. Ken. I would include Dr. Ken's contact information, but, alas, we live in Illinois. Good luck, this too will pass.

    Posted by been there, conquered that November 10, 10 09:31 AM
  1. Any suggestions for a 11 year old daughter who still sucks her thumb? she still has beatutiful teeth, but dentist is warning that she may need braces if she continues.

    She does it in private. She has tried to stop many times, but clearly needs to do it when she is tired

    Posted by Roberta November 10, 10 09:49 AM
  1. My daughter sucked her thumb for years and guess what! She does not need braces. Go figure.

    I think you need to do what you think is best for the child. My pediatrician told me that this was a stress reducer and a way for little kids to console themselves. He told me that the child would stop when she was good and ready. That's exactly what happened. So unless the dentist can show you concrete evidence that the teeth are in trouble due to thumb sucking, then I would not put the child through hell just to mollify other people "who think' that it "MIGHT" be a problem. You are the parent, not all these other nosy people!!!

    Posted by Leslie November 10, 10 10:44 AM
  1. Stop stressing about it. My now 26 year old, PhD-degreed son sucked his thumb until he was 8 years old, (we narrowed it down to when he was tired). The dentist, preschool and elementary teachers all fussed at us about it and we fell for it for a while. My son did not have to have braces and I, as a non-thumb sucker DID have to wear braces so there is not an automatic causal effect. The teasing is a very legitimate concern and thus we worked with our son to self-monitor when he knew he was getting tired. He's a brillant young man and has traveled the world. Pick your battles wisely, you'll have plenty more opportunities :)

    Posted by ALL November 10, 10 11:13 AM
  1. How do people reconcile the common sense warning to the child that he or she may be teased for thumbsucking beyond the socially accepted age, with the currently popular concept that all teasing is socially unacceptable and borders on bullying?

    This question would go for anything a child does which is to some degree within his or her control (not a true disability or limitation) and which goes beyond the broad range of what is considered socially within bounds for the kid's age--babytalk, bottle or sippy cup, nosepicking, demanding to wear Barney slippers out of the house instead of shoes, etc.


    Posted by di November 10, 10 12:15 PM
  1. Aww I sucked mine till I was 12. However, even when I was younger it was limited to in our house. My dad used to threaten that he would stick my thumb in vinegar, but he never did.
    Like someone said above, it was very hard to quit. I didn't end up with a speech delay/impediment. I needed braces but never got them, not sure if it was because of the thumb sucking though! My advice would be not to try and stop it. Maybe have an age appropriate chat about not doing it outside of the house (in school), but that would be it.

    Posted by AM November 10, 10 12:21 PM
  1. I can see that, anecdotally, not all dedicated thumb suckers will require braces, and there are plenty of kids who never sucked their thumbs who will end up needing them. But certain kids suck their thumbs with such force and intensity that they do real harm, especially if they continue when their secondary teeth are coming in. I'd pay more attention to what the dentist has to say than the preschool teacher on this.

    I have a niece who was an intense thumb sucker, through age 8. She finally stopped with the help of a removable dental appliance, but not before she needed minor surgery to fix a hole in her palate, several years of speech therapy and help to correct a tongue thrust swallowing habit. Her facial structure has become elongated. The braces to re-align the teeth are the easy part, but they are not usually covered by insurance. If you can keep the orthodontia to a minimum you will save your child some discomfort, save yourself some money, and avoid spending quite so many days racing to the orthodontist after school.

    Posted by gastrogal November 10, 10 01:13 PM
  1. Would love to hear more from older (10 years of age and over) thumb-suckers or their parents

    Posted by Santanna November 10, 10 01:19 PM
  1. My grandson is 21 and sucks his thumb when he is relaxing. We tease him but he doesn't care. His teeth and speech are perfect.

    Posted by winnie reed November 10, 10 02:14 PM
  1. I sucked my thumb until I was 12. My father hated it and once doused my thumb in Tabasco sauce to keep me from sucking (result: screaming kid who's mouth is burning and who cannot sleep because she can't suck her thumb). Mom didn't like it either but I think she didn't want to hurt me to make me stop. She used the "you'll need braces" threat instead.

    How and why I stopped is funny but informative: a beloved aunt gave me a beautiful teddy bear from Bloomingdales. I cuddled up to it one night and suddenly found I didn't need my thumb.

    I was a kid with high anxiety and trouble sleeping. The thumb soothed me until the bear came along. Honestly, I slept with the bear every night unless sleeping with a partner until I met my husband and gave him up for good. He's still in my bedroom, and I am not a stuffed animal kind of person. There's just a random teddy bear in our room!

    If you want it to stop, you have to work on the cause. The thumb sucking is just a symptom. I also bit my nails, a habit I still struggle with, and pick at pimples. All these things are related. At the same time, I grew up to be a well-balanced professional with great teeth, so keep things in perspective. The threatened braces never materialized, I just wore a retainer for a year or so. This is not on par with more serious mental issues a child might suffer.

    Reading this letter and the other posts really brought back the memories - I can say with 100% certainty that efforts to stop me from doing this were ineffective. I stopped when I was ready and have suffered very few adverse effects because of it.

    I'd also add to di's point (#9). All bullying is bad. If your child is bullied for thumb sucking, why would you take the bully's side by reinforcing the message that there is something "wrong" with the child? Tell you child the same thing you would if the bullying focused on her height or hair color: that bullies are mean people who hurt to feel better about their own insecurities.

    Hope this helps, Santanna. I will check back if you have more specific questions!

    Q

    Posted by Q November 10, 10 03:06 PM
  1. My brother got endless crap about his thumb sucking as a child. My Mom and former Stepfather tried all manner of creative and cruel ways to get him to stop it, to no avail. The big, scary threat was that he was going to need braces, he was going to need speech therapy, etc. Well, he didn't quit until years and years after he was pushed to quit. He has perfect teeth and an excellent voice and never needed braces and speech therapy. I think a lot of speech therapy problems are blamed on thumb sucking when it is unrelated.

    Posted by Meri November 10, 10 03:21 PM
  1. @ di who wrote: "How do people reconcile the common sense warning to the child that he or she may be teased for thumbsucking beyond the socially accepted age, with the currently popular concept that all teasing is socially unacceptable and borders on bullying?"

    One discusses how things SHOULD be separately from the discussion on how things ARE.

    The world we live in is not ideal - one teaches kids how to cope with the world as it truly is, and helps them figure out how the world should be.

    Plus... who told you that "all teasing is socially unacceptable and borders on bullying?" Teasing is a perfectly normal social interaction at certain ages and social situations... Yes, teasing can be part of bullying scenarios, but it does not constitute bullying by itself. Equating the two is preposterous.

    Posted by H-B-X November 10, 10 04:30 PM
  1. I didn't say *I* equate all teasing with bullying...but there are those out there who do and I agree, it's preposterous.

    Look at comment #14, about a child "bullied" for thumbsucking, apparently responding as if I had said it would be OK. Note that I said, "teased," which all kids are about something, sometime. But why volunteer for it?

    Posted by di November 10, 10 06:50 PM
  1. I sincerely doubt it caused a speech impediment - thumbsucking is so common, I'm sure we would see some epidemiological studies on that but, no, not there. Old pathologists tale, most likely - unless you can produce some cites that google scholar and pubmed can't swing?

    Posted by infoferret November 10, 10 08:56 PM
  1. I was a thumb sucker until I was in 3rd grade. My parents tried EVERYTHING to get me to stop, the nail polish, taping a glove to my hand, taping my thumb, you name it they tried it. However, in the middle of the night, unconsciously, I'd take the glove off, the tape off, and that nail polish was no match for me, would suck it right off. So my mom went to an orthodontist to ask him what he thought and he suggested a 'plate'. It was a metal piece that got cemented to the roof of my mouth, attached to my back molars, and was shaped like a half moon so it hung down in the middle of my mouth. It prevented me from getting my thumb in there and sucking on it because I couldn't close my mouth if my thumb was in there. I had this for a little less than a year and I was cured! I'd say the biggest thing was don't get angry with them for not stopping, it's not easy, and a lot of the times like in the middle of the night or laying on the couch it is very unconscious that they are sucking their thumb. I did have to get braces after but I can tell you I now have great teeth!

    Posted by Boston November 11, 10 07:39 AM
  1. The teddy bear story reminds me of how my family got me to stop thumb-sucking when I was maybe 3 or 4. They told me my arms would be short like my teddy bear's! It actually worked.

    Posted by messkat November 11, 10 08:41 AM
  1. I was in high school before I finally stopped sucking my fingers. By that point, it was limited to bedtime, or if I was really stressed out I would hide in my room. My parents were really hard on me about it, and I was humiliated every time I went to the dentist as they told her about it too. I never ended up with braces, my teeth are perfect.

    Although I really wanted to, it was really difficult to stop - I would imagine it was something like an addiction. I was embarassed and ashamed, but my friends didn't know about it. What finally forced me to stop was when I got my nails done for the prom, and it was uncomfortable to suck my fingers.

    Posted by KD November 12, 10 12:58 PM
  1. My daughter is 12 going on 13, and sucks her thumb even more often now than when she was younger. She had an appliance in her mouth for months to stop the sucking, but she still continues. Unfortunately, her teeth have shifted tremendously, and she will need braces.She doesn't seem to care about this. I wish I had some good advice, but I think I'm the one who needs advice!

    Posted by pfrullo December 2, 10 09:59 AM
  1. I'm 18 and still suck my thumb, never needed braces, doesn't look like I ever will. Getting kids to quit is just time consuming and frustrating for both you and your child, and more importantly, typically ineffective; most children will disregard a parent's demands, bribes, threats, etc. and eventually quit on their own. And if it turns out they don't, like me, well, just be grateful they're not drinking or smoking; remember, it's all about perspective, there are much worse habits out there than thumb sucking. As for the germs, you might actually find yourself at an advantage; sure, kids might go through a period of getting sick more frequently to begin with, but what you'll end up with is a child who has a strong and healthy immune system with antibodies to all sorts of strange diseases.

    Posted by Adrian January 31, 11 10:26 PM
  1. As a child care provider and having all four of my children not dependent on thumb or pacifier! I believe the thumb is a very unsanitary means of soothing... However, the pacifier is not much better interns of leading to speech delays as the thumb! Why not discourage both and provide love and nurturing through real relationships

    Posted by A March 25, 14 10:57 PM
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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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