Thumb Sucking

Posted by Sudha rajan on Fri, Jul 3, 2009  
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It is very common for babies to suck their thumb, both at the toddler stage and sometimes even after they start school .In fact surprisingly babies suck their thumb in the womb, even before they are born!

For children in the first year of life, sucking to fall asleep or for comfort is self-limiting and wonderful. It is a self-soothing activity, an indication of tiredness, boredom, and the need for comfort but not indication anxiety or nervousness in an infant. In fact, it is more a means to satisfy the need in an infant to suck (which varies from child to child) and it is exclusive of  its feeding habits.


Thumb sucking becomes a problem if the child has not, even after 5 or 6 years of age kicked this habit, or, if it is in some way hindering the normal life of the child like affecting his play activities or learning or causing social ostracism.


Older children may use thumb sucking to relieve tension or because they are shy or insecure, to alleviate boredom or to help them fall asleep. A lot of the times parents unwittingly prolong the habit because of  forcing the child at a young age to stop thumb sucking and the child just refuses to let the habit go.


What problems are caused by Thumb sucking ?


Thumb sucking also can lead to dental, speech, and self-image problems. A child who is still sucking his Thumb by age five, when permanent teeth start coming in, may develop an abnormal bite. In addition, prolonged thumb sucking can cause minor physical problems, such as chapped lips or cracked skin, calluses, or fingernail infections. If a child older than five or six is still sucking his thumb and is having difficulty stopping, parents ought to think about what they can do to help.


How to Stop Thumb Sucking?


For the first week, keep your child's hands busy with puzzles, games, crafts, or other favorite activities. You may need to limit TV time since many children unconsciously suck their thumbs while watching TV.


You may wish to use a bandage or a bad-tasting substance such as thumb that is painted on the fingernail to remind your child not to suck the thumb. If the bandage or coating comes off, replace it without being critical or embarrassing your child.

Carefully remove your child's thumb from his or her mouth during sleep. Thumb sucking at night is the most difficult habit to break. It may take up to 3 months before your child is able to fall asleep without thumb-sucking. Try offering a favorite stuffed animal or putting a hand puppet on your child's hand at bedtime as a reminder. Gently explain to your child that if he or she continues to suck the thumb during the night, the habit will not go away and the changes to the mouth will continue to occur.

Avoid putting your child in situations that are upsetting while he or she is trying to break the thumb-sucking habit. Your child will likely turn to thumb-sucking for comfort. Make sure your child gets enough sleep and food during this time.


Offer plenty of  praise when your child goes without thumb-sucking during an activity that normally would  have included that habit. Do not shame or punish your child for thumb-sucking. This will only lower his or her self-esteem.




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