Posted by Piya Chakravarty on January 10, 2009

Dr. Green stood in a darkened room with two excited parents-to-be, during their prenatal ultrasound. He watched their screen-lit faces, the moment they glimpsed their new baby for the first time. The mother held tightly the father’s hand, as they both gazed at the screen. When their tiny daughter moved her thumb to her mouth, tears of joy streamed down from both parents’ eyes.

Thumb sucking "Behaviour that is adorable in one so young can be a concern in an older child", says Dr Alan Green MD FAAP (Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics)

Why do children suck their thumbs? How can this be stopped without causing a psychological strain to the child? Medguru finds out...

Experts agree that up to the age of five, sometimes thumb sucking is not really a problem. ''It's not a sign of insecurity--it's simply a habit,'' says Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Denver. ''It's a coping skill, much like pacing or cigarette smoking is to an adult,'' says Dr. Heitler. If a child is agitated, it calms him down; if he's bored, it stimulates him. If the child is under five, the best policy might be to ignore it. ''If the child thumb-sucks only occasionally and it doesn't appear to be harming teeth or fingers, there's no need to do anything,'' says Stephen Goepferd, D.D.S., professor of paediatrics dentistry and director of dentistry in the Division of Developmental Disabilities at the University Hospital School at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Why do Children suck their thumb?

Dr Benjamin Spock says, “Infants have an inborn need to suck. Up to age 6 months, thumb-sucking is a way to satisfy this need. After that age, children suck their thumbs out of habit or because they find it soothing. They may suck more when tired, bored or tense”

Experts believe, the young babies suck their thumbs when they have not had enough sucking at the breast or bottle to satisfy their sucking needs. Sucking helps babies relieve physical and emotional tension. Most babies get into this habit before they are 3 months old.

How to stop children from sucking their thumb?

1. Don’t nag; “If you've been nagging your child about his thumb-sucking, now is the time to call it quits,” says Dr. Friman.

2. Understand the child’s signals, says Dr. Heitler. “If your child automatically sucks her thumb when she's tired, hungry or bored, help her verbalize those feelings and look for other solutions”.

3. Choose a proper time; do not talk about this to the child when the family is going through turmoil like a death or shift.

4. Discuss solutions together; involve the child.

5. Fix a reward; provide motivation.

6. Develop a warning system. “The hardest part of quitting is for the child to realize that his thumb is in his mouth, since it goes in by automatic pilot,” says Dr. Heitler.

7. Cover up the thumb to stop the sucking at night.

8. Offer an encouraging word. “Don't underestimate how difficult breaking this habit is for your child,” says Dr. Heitler. '”Thumb-sucking is a very rewarding habit, and doing without it creates a feeling of loss or emptiness”. So be patient with your child.

Hence, without nagging and scolding, almost all children can quit thumb-sucking habit before age 4 or 5. For the very few, who do not, their parents and doctors can help them loose the habit in a very competitive manner. Understanding and help is all that children need

Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

Add new comment

27 March 2014

A Washington State University food scientist and colleagues at Texas A&M AgriLife Research claim in a study that peach extracts contain the mixture of phenolic compounds that can reduce a...