Thumbsucking is such a common form of behaviour in young children that you might not think of it as a problem – and for lots of kids it isn’t. But if it’s particularly compulsive, or if as they grow older they just won’t stop, then it can be a cause for concern.
Babies can start sucking their thumbs while they are still in the womb, and most newborns will do it within the first few weeks of life. Thumbsucking is a form of stress relief: it comforts children when they are tired or anxious by helping the brain produce certain ‘satisfaction’ endorphins. There are lots of stories about the adverse effects of thumbsucking, but most of them are untrue. Thumbsucking won’t cause buck teeth in adulthood, since children start to lose their milk teeth at around six years anyway, and it’s unlikely that the thumb itself will be damaged or deformed, though the skin can become sore for a while. You can of course give babies a dummy to suck during their first year, which quietens them when they feel anxious or insecure, and which will go some way to stopping them from developing the thumbsucking habit.
Most kids will naturally stop sucking their thumbs by the time they are two or three, but a significant number don’t. This is the point at which it can become more of an issue. Since you can’t take kids’ thumbs away from them, how do you stop them sucking once they get older?
Avoid threats or telling them off, which tend not to be effective. Instead, just gently ask them not to do it, and offer little rewards, praise and reassurance as their behaviour changes. For some kids it’ll be peer pressure which does the trick once they start spending more time with other kids at nursery or school. Either way, positive reinforcement of the behaviour you want should gradually wean them out of the habit.
For more information, see:
Thumb Guard UK
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