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Thumb sucking

Thumb sucking in infants is a very common occurrence. Once they have discovered their fingers and how much fun it is to suck on them, the fingers, and even the whole fist sometimes, find their way into your infant’s mouth. This exploration then extends to placing objects into the mouth as your infant begins to crawl and walk. About half of these infants will retain this habit into the toddler years and some even into the preschool years. It is these older “thumb suckers” that distress parents the most. Parents worry about peer ridicule and possible future orthodontic problems. But parents should be reassured that in the vast majority of cases, thumb sucking is not harmful to your child.

Behavioral and developmental experts do not recommend attempting to extinguish this behavior until your child has reached the age of 4 years. If your child is still thumb sucking after the age of 5 years, it is possible that damage will be done to the alignment of the permanent teeth and that braces may be needed for correction.

Children suck their thumbs as a means of soothing and comfort. Many children will such their thumbs as they fall off to sleep. Thumb sucking does not indicate anxiety or an emotional disturbance.

If your child is 4 years old and you are ready to begin weaning her from this habit, here are a few suggestions. A reward system can be set-up in which the child will get a sticker or a star for demonstrating active restraint for a certain amount of time. The times set should be small at first, such as 15 or 20 minutes. Give praise and encouragement liberally for successes. Do not punish your child if she is having trouble “kicking the habit.” Love and praise for positive behavior is always the best approach. At bedtime, try a new routine such as reading a book together. Offer a substitute comfort item such as a blanket or stuffed animal.