Thumb sucking is very common childhood habit which almost all the parents must have heard about as well as faced once in a while. Usually thumb sucking is not a cause to worry about.
WHY do children suck thumb?
It is Soothing activity for children. Babies do it when they are feeling bored, anxious or tiered. It is a way to cope up with stress or anxiety and they feel safe and relaxed while sucking thumb.
How long will it last?
Most of the children stop sucking thumb by 4 years of age. Most commonly between 2-4 years of age. Most of the kids who suck thumb beyond this point stop in view of peer pressure at school.
When should we try to stop it?
It should not be a concern until permanent teeth start erupting. Once permanent teeth start coming it can damage the roof of mouth and teeth might be not aligned properly. We should consider intervention if
- Child continues to suck thumb aggressively even after age of 4-5 years
- Thumb sucking leads to dental problems
What can be done to stop thumb sucking?
- Ignore it: In many cases, if you do not pay any attention to thumb sucking, child stops it (in cases where it is a behavior thing in which child do it to catch your attention).
- Positive reinforcement: Praise your child when he or she is not sucking thumb and give them small rewards to encourage their positive behavior (like extra bedtime stories, some stickers etc).
- Try to identify triggers: Thumb sucking could be in response to stress or anxiety. If you hug the child and provide reassuring words, it can do wonders. Children want unconditional love all the time.
- Gently remind your child: Do not scold or threaten the baby; but simply offer a gentle reminder to stop. Do not embarrass the child in front of others; just tell them by using private cues.
- And remember, most habits in young kids are just passing phases.
Does negative reinforcement have any role in thumb sucking?
Resist the temptation of using aversion techniques like putting chili powder, vinegar or other bitter stuff on thumb. It can only worsen the situation.
Should we consult Dentist?
Opinion can be taken; as they can directly counsel the child. Dentist might recommend a special mouth guard. But these are reserve for extreme cases.
- Thumb sucking is a childhood habits, which will go away sooner or later; so try not to worry.
- Putting too much pressure on your child to stop thumb sucking might only delay the process.
Dr Rahul Varma