Thumb sucking is a common habit formed by children to self soothe. While cute at first, this habit can be detrimental to a child’s oral health, jaw development, and speech development if it occurs for a prolonged period of time. While old methods included pouring hot sauce on children’s thumbs or binding them to prevent the child from sucking, there are new methods that are more humane and help to reach to a child’s emotional needs.
When should a child be pressured to stop sucking their thumb?
Most experts agree that thumb sucking doesn’t become a problem until a child is around five years old. This is because most children give up the habit well before then. And the habit is a useful and beneficial behavior as children learn to soothe themselves.
Once children move into the preschool years, however, they’re more likely to be teased for the habit and, as a result, can suffer emotional repercussions in additional to the physical.
What problems can thumb sucking cause?
The most notable problem that thumb sucking can cause is developmental issues with a child’s mouth. If they constantly have their thumb in their mouth, then their teeth are forced to shift to the object in their mouth. This becomes particularly problematic when children begin to develop their adult teeth, but is also an issue as their baby teeth come in because it can impact their speech patterns.
Moreover, research has shown that once children reach kindergarten age, they begin to be made fun of for thumb sucking and other children do not want to interact with children who are labeled as “thumb suckers.”
How can I break the habit?
Children are much more successful at breaking this habit when their parents become their partners. Don’t rely on fear to scare children into not sucking their thumb.
The first thing to do is to set guidelines. For example, your child can suck their thumb at home, but not in public. This helps your child become more conscious of the fact that they are sucking their thumb, because oftentimes children don’t realize they’re engaging in the habit.
When you see your child sucking their thumb, take the time to talk to them about how they’re feeling, then offer a replacement coping skill. This might be breathing exercises or relaxation exercises.
An often debated method to stop thumb sucking is to apply a bitter coating or tabasco sauce to your child’s thumb. Some say this is cruel, while others note that it was effective. We believe that there are better solutions than training your child using this method.
Most notably, by reaching to the core of the habit you can teach them to manage their emotions and eliminate the habit, instead of running toward it.
If you’re looking to get your child to stop sucking their thumb and need help, contact our team. Dr. Heller has helped many families develop a plan that puts their child on a path toward breaking the habit and ultimately enjoying better oral and emotional health.