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Have you ever seen a toddler merrily sucking over his thumb or fingers? And, his troubled parents making a fuss over it?

Does your child walk around with a thumb in his mouth?

Have you tried all measures but can’t get your child over with thumb sucking?

Well today, you will get most of your answers.

Sucking is a normal response in babies. It helps them to feed on mother’s breast. As they learn to regard their hands by 3-4months, they start exploring their mouth with their hands.

Most of the babies stop thumb sucking by the age of 2years. However, many of them are stuck to this habit for over 5years.

Causes of thumb sucking

Anxiety:  Children might use sucking as a stress reliever. As they are  scolded or get anxious, they will slip into a corner sucking on to her thumb. Sucking has s soothing effect on their nerves.

Habit: For some of the kids it’s just a habit they can’t kick off. They just need a little push in the right direction.

Harms of thumb sucking

This habit is normal for infants. However, if your child continues with it in her toddler years, she is likely to face some issues like

1. Crowding of upper teeth: Continuous pressure on the palate due to thumb or finger causes crowding of teeth in upper jaw. Earlier, dentists used to worry about these issues only after permanent teeth start erupting. However, now they are worried about early years of life also. These kids might need braces for correction in teenage.

2. Inappropriate bite. Improper jaw development leads to inappropriate bite. This may lead to teeth grinding at night and erosion of edges of teeth. These kids might need to use a mouth guard to protect their teeth.

3. Speech issues: Due to undue pressure on upper jaw, they tend to develop a “lisp” as they learn to speak.

How to get rid of thumb sucking

All children eventually stop sucking their thumb. Nobody has ever entered a high school sucking on to his or her thumb or fingers. So, dear parents, you need to stop worrying first of all.

Earlier, no intervention was recommended for this habit until five years of age. And, by this time kids eventually outgrow it.

Nowadays,  dentists are worried more about dental development of kids. Hence, it is recommended that children should get rid of this habit by 3-4years of age.

Here are a few tips and tricks to get rid of thumb sucking in your child

  1. Talk her out of it: Kids are more likely to leave a habit if they are made aware of it. Many a times, thumb sucking is not intentional. So, it is good to talk to the child that this habit is damaging his teeth and harming his speech. Don’t pull the thumb out of his mouth when he is stressed. You are depriving him of his comfortable cushion.
  2. Use their favourite characters: If your child is fond of watching cartoons like Peppa Pig, sit down with him and say, “Look, George is not putting his thumb in his mouth!” If you see an episode where his favourite character is trying to break a habit, discuss with him and work out a way of getting rid of his own habit.
  3. Set the rules: Initially , to decrease the frequency, you can lay down certain rules like “no thumb while studying”, “don’t put anything in mouth in front of TV”, “avoid thumb sucking in public places”. They will gradually outgrow it.
  4. Use rewards: Reward your kiddo with a “star” or a small “ball” or “eraser” when they don’t suck their thumb for some period like an hour or so “You have been a good child today. Here is a star for you!”
  5. Visit to dentist: When you take your little one for regular dental check, discuss about this habit. When the doc will tell about the need for braces and mouth guard, child is more likely to understand the need to change.
  6. Aversive techniques: If none of the above measures work you might try,
    1. applying a bitter drug or nail polish to the thumb
    2. Using a finger guard or plaster

Scientifically, last technique is not recommended. Practically, I tried this with my three year old and it didn’t work. Finally, I  gave him the example of his favourite cartoon character “George Pig” and rewarded him with “stars” for positive behavior. And, bingo! his thumb was out of his mouth!

Which method worked for you? And, how much time did it take? Do share your experiences in comment box.

Another troublesome  habit in kids is “Junk food consumption”. Click here to know how to improve their eating habits

Junk food and children’s Health – a complete guide

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