Thumb sucking and babies go together like the Potomac River and a canoe. Within the first few months of life, or even sooner, a baby can start sucking his or her thumb as an aid to fall asleep, to calm down, or to just feel good.
If only parents could use it when we can’t get to sleep!
Thumb sucking in infants is considered harmless in terms of the child’s growth and speech development. But this has limits.
Children who are moving past their second birthday all the way to age four need to start developing other coping skills other than thumb sucking. This is a critical part of emotional development. Things such as using language to express frustration begin to take the place of the trusty thumb.
But for some kids they don’t want to give it up. This can lead to problems with their mouths, and recent research shows these problems start earlier than previously thought. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, thumb sucking puts pressure on the sides of the upper jaw and the soft tissue on the roof of the mouth. This can make the upper jaw narrow, which can cause the teeth to not meet properly from the top and bottom. This can also lead to the development of a lisp. There are other problems, as well, especially if the child has any amount of a cross bite.
OK, so after age two or three it’s probably time to ditch the thumb, but little Billy is having none of that. What to do? Here are a few tips:
- Try and limit the time — Tell the child he or she can suck their thumb during nap times and at bedtime.
- Don’t make it confrontational — Instead of drawing a line, try to praise your child when he or she is NOT sucking their thumb in the usual instances.
- Talk about it — Kids usually start to see that other kids aren’t sucking their thumbs anymore. Talk about it and say when they are ready, you’ll be there to help. And make the child self-aware. Sometimes they aren’t aware they are sucking their thumb, kind of the way some adults absent-mindedly chew their fingernails.
- Don’t put nasty stuff on their thumbs — Uh, can you say cruel?
- Use creative ways to help your child understand they won’t be doing this forever — Ask things such as, “Do you think SpongeBob sucks his thumb?” This will make them consider this to be something they may be getting a little old to do any longer.
- Try and ignore it — Making the thumb a proverbial bone of contention only frustrates your child. This makes the child more likely to keep sucking and fighting you. Try to ignore it. After all, one day they will stop.
Summertime is a great time to work on breaking the thumb habit. If you have questions about strategies, or to schedule a checkup, give us at (304) 754-8803.