9 Ways of Handling Your Child’s Thumb Sucking Habit

As adults, all of us have our ways of relaxing. While we may indulge in reading or a sport, our children have their own ways of unwinding. Of the many things we observe in our babies as they learn and grow, Thumb Sucking is one of the commonest habit that is also the way for them to cope and relax.
Thumb sucking signifies so many things; that the baby is feeling hungry, that he or she is teething, and often it also shows insecurity. This is a normal and healthy part of an infant’s growth.

Infants often suck on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers, toys and even food during play and sleep. Sucking on an object gives them a sense of security and comfort. This habit usually lasts till the age of 4, often even up till 6 years.
If thumb sucking continues beyond 6 years, especially at the time permanent teeth are beginning to be formed, then it is a cause for concern, since the habit often leads to a whole host of dental problems.

Often after 5 years, children develop language skills that help them cope. Therefore the habit when continued beyond this age, may indicate children’s inability to cope or convey what they feel.

Depending on the intensity of the thumb sucking, frequency and duration, teeth can gradually get pushed out of their original position, can become misaligned, making them protrude and resulting in an ‘overbite’, a condition in which teeth don’t clamp down properly.

In addition, the misaligned teeth don’t close the mouth fully, causing malformed jaws as the years go by.

Thumb Sucking therefore has to be observed and stopped before it becomes a habit that causes harm and irreversible dental damage. If your child is approaching preschool and still shows signs of not overcoming the habit, then parents will have to intervene to know why it I so.

Below are 9 ways that you can help your child wean themselves off this habit;

  •      DO try to gradually limit the time and place where your child sucks their thumb, either to the bedroom or house itself. Try to prevent them doing it outside in public. Explain that the activity must be restricted only to bedtime.
  •      DON’T make it a tussle of wills. Thumb sucking is an involuntary habit, so ordering the child to ‘Stop’ won’t get you anywhere. He or she may hide and do it or turn hostile which doesn’t solve the problem. Try to praise them whenever you see them not doing it, rather than criticizing when he is. This is positive reinforcement.
  •      DO take time every now and then to talk to them about the habit. Help them understand why the habit isn’t good, and tell them you will be there whenever they want to stop.
  •      DON’T prevent them from thumb sucking after a stressful time or when they are injured. The child usually does it to seek comfort, and preventing them from doing it will traumatize them further.
  •      DO practice self-awareness with your child. If they are sucking their thumb, make them aware of what they are doing. Try to make them find other ways to soothe themselves, like hugging a stuffed animal or a toy.
  •      DON’T replace the thumb sucking habit with handing them chocolates or lollipops. It is cruel to remove one habit and replace it with something worse.
  •       DO practice role play to make your child understand that he/she is growing up and there are some habits he cannot carry with him as he grows. Showing them how other grown-ups like their uncles and aunts, or the neighborhood policeman behave, can help them process whether they want to continue with the habit.
  •      DON’T try shoving a glove or mitten into their hands, whenever you catch them sucking their thumbs. When this is done as babies, it might not matter much, but when older, this will frustrate them and cause them to suck on their fingers more.
  •      DO remember, that although thumb sucking is worrying, the child will eventually grow out of it when he is ready. You may have tried everything you can, and yet do understand that your kid will grow out of it.

Thumb Sucking is a habit practiced by every child, but it starts to get worrying when it causes dental problems which can last a lifetime. Ensuring the child gets positive reinforcement to let go off the habit, rather than a harsh approach will help them understand and get rid of it sooner. It will also help in preventing some common dental problems that can develop later in life.

If you are seeing some teeth problems in your child due to this habit, please don’t delay showing your pediatric dentist at the earliest, or reach out to the Small Bites Dental Clinic at
+918041256715 or +918025272614.

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