Many parents worry about their infant's thumb sucking behaviour. While it is true that it can cause backward alignment of the teeth and an overbite as well as thickened skin on the thumb, all of these are reversible and not permanent provided the habit stops around the years of 4 to 5. Most children stop sucking their thumbs on their own, mostly due to peer pressure. I well remember what motivated me to stop sucking my thumb: On the walk home from kindergarten there was a beautiful velvety blue-green hedge which I could not resist running my fingers along as I walked past. The trouble is, it left a bitter taste on my fingers and I was over the thumb-sucking habit in just a few days!
Here are some tips for parents, nannies and babysitters to help the child in their care break the habit
A Guide to Stopping Thumb Sucking
- Never coerce your child to cooperate. Do not press the issue by using forceful methods, such as pulling the finger out of your child's mouth. This will only reinforce and encourage the behavior.
- Avoid teasing or embarrassing your child to try to get him to stop thumb sucking.
- Use encouragement and positive reinforcement, such as a reward chart or star calendar. Every day that he refrains from sucking is rewarded with a star. Discuss an appropriate reward for when he has gone for a few weeks with stars pasted on every day of the calendar.
- Try to distract your child and keep him busy Some children suck their thumb when they're bored. Avoid activities that stimulate the behavior, such as watching television.
- Many children are not even aware of the fact that they're sucking their thumb. Use an adhesive strip or bitter-tasting medicine to remind him not to suck his thumb.
- Nighttime sucking will be difficult to stop. You can try applying a sock or glove to the child's hand.
- Enlist the help of your doctor or dentist to encourage your child to give up the habit because he is "growing up."
- Buy a book or take one out from the library that you can read to him about breaking the habit.
- As a very last resort, your dentist can make a plate that prevents thumb sucking.