Thumb Sucking in kids

Have you ever wondered, what can be a baby’s favourite popsicle? Yeah, it’s the thumb indeed! Basically, thumb sucking is just a source of comfort for infants, and is not a big deal at that age. During the teething stage, sucking the thumb also relieves the newborn’s painful gums. Additionally, some kids use thumb-sucking to help them sleep. It may still be used as a pacifier when babies grow into toddlers, and young children frequently suck their thumbs when they’re terrified, bored, or tired. Read more to know to stop this habit of thumb sucking in kids.

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When do babies start thumb sucking?

One of the most prevalent habits among young children is thumb sucking. Early on in life, the habit develops.Within weeks of life, some newborns experience the delight of “open mouth, insert thumb.” Others continue to thumb suck after developing the habit long before birth, as evidenced by the adorable ultrasound photos. By two hours after delivery, 90% of babies exhibit hand sucking in some capacity. Thus Infants and young children commonly thumb-suck as a soothing action.

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Why exactly do the babies suck their thumb?

Newborns sucking their thumbs is quite normal. Here’s why:

  • Baby sucking is in their nature. Because it’s how they eat, sucking is a common reflex in newborns. That your infant has already figured it out is a positive thing.
  • Your infant will relax after a sucking. Your infant may still need to suck even after you have finished feeding him/her. They aren’t, however, prepared to eat again as a result. In addition to sucking to fill their tummies, babies also require “non-nutritive” sucking, which calms them.
  • Thumbs are always at hand to suck in. Of course, the initial few times were probably just unintentional taste tests, but once your baby saw how calming and approachable the thumb was, she quickly discovered how to intentionally put it in their mouth.

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How long will it last?

Many kids quit sucking their thumbs entirely on their own between the ages of 2 and 4 or by the time they are 6 or 7 months old. However, even a child who has quit sucking their thumbs may resume the habit under stress.  You can help that process along while your child is still a toddler by offering other comfort objects like a beloved stuffed animal when they reaches for their thumb.

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Issues that can arise due to thumb-sucking:

1. Dental damages: Consistent thumb sucking can affect the roof of the mouth. It can lead to misalignment, creation of gaps and may also alter the position and arrangement of teeth. Consequently, it causes crowding of the teeth due to space deficiency, and deformation in the palatal area.

2. Stomach issues: Kids indeed hold an inquisitive and curious attitude towards things. This makes them touch almost everything around them. And then their habit of inserting fingers within their mouths turn out to be a surefire welcome for umpteen varieties of gut infections especially during cold season. This can in turn affect the stomach health.

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3. Skin ripping: The skin of the thumb gets roughed up by habitual sucking, which raises the possibility of issues like callus formation or cracked skin on the sucked digit. It can also result in formation of small blisters filled with fluid due to repeated irritation on the skin.

4. Speech issues: Thumb sucking can alter how your child speaks and eats because it has an impact on how the teeth, jaw, and palate develop. Lisping and other speech disorders, such as difficulty pronouncing difficult consonant sounds like “D” and “T,” may result from thumb sucking.

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5. Malocclusion: Young children can develop malocclusion (poor bite) from thumb, finger, and pacifier use. However, the teeth start to automatically reposition themselves once a youngster stops sucking.

Tips to stop thumb sucking in kids:

Let’s take a quick glance at some easy, really useful ways to kick out thumb sucking.

1. Limit the time of Thumb sucking

Kids often suck their thumb when they face anxiety, stress and find it difficult to cope up with their ultimate surroundings. But it must be brought gently to their realisation that this is not the practice to be followed every time. Slowly ask your child to only restrict it to some activities like during sleeping/taking a nap and while watching television.

2. Be creative at convincing

Children often get impacted to do or not to do things by looking at their favourite characters or personalities. Whenever you spot your child sucking thumb, intervene and ask the child something like “How would Winnie the Pooh feel sucking his thumb”? Tell your child that Winnie Pooh wants to get rid of sucking his thumb. How can you help him to do it? This approach will help your child to relate himself/herself to their favourite toy or cartoon characters and find ways and means out to overcome it.

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3. Develop Self-awareness

Children at times may not be aware of what exactly they are doing or what it’s done for. Whenever you spot your child sucking thumb, ask him if he knows that he is sucking his thumb. If he says No, make him aware about his activity of sucking thumb in response to his anxieties, fears and stress. One he develops this sort of self-awareness, you can probably try other ways and means out to make him relax by giving him his favourite toy or engaging him in some sort of healthy mental activity.

4. Offer modest incentives and reward

It is indeed very important for your child to let him know that his dependency upon thumb sucking will be slowly overcomed. For the times when he does not suck up his thumb, praise him for not doing it or give him small gifts for his good behaviour. This develops within a child a firm understanding of choosing upon whether or not to suck his thumb frequently while dealing with things.

5. AVOID using mittens or gloves

You must understand the kid’s emotions behind sucking their thumb as it eventually helps in comforting them and it’s a very  normal reflex in them. Putting mittens or gloves over their hand does not let them switch to thumb sucking when they experience stressful times and being not able to do so, can aggravate this response further adding to the levels of anxiety and worry!

6. Play some pretend

Children often get deeply influenced with their favourite cartoon characters. Keep an eye out for which character play casts an influence upon your child. You can frame a story upon that character like, “DORA” is feeling anxious and wants to discover innovative ways upon giving up on thumb sucking as she is facing multiple issues with dental health. So DORA hugs her favourite toy when she feels stressed and worried. This will help your child to imitate similar practices for getting rid of that habit.

7. Visual reminders

Visual reminders can also serve as “Not to do” signs for the kids. Tying a small band upon the thumb or writing a small note saying “No sucking” can help the child to reduce the frequency of sucking over and over. You can also write upon his thumb to “Breathe deep” whenever he faces difficulty in handling his emotions arising from stress. Gradually switching the habit from thumb sucking to deep breathing will help the child to gain confidence to get over thumb sucking.

8. Observe thumb sucking patterns

It’s crucial to understand exactly when and what triggers your child to make use of the thumb to overcome it. Most of the time for babies, thumb sucking is seen more while they are asleep or when they are feeling sleepy. But for slightly bigger kids, different situations can act as triggers or provokers to practise thumb sucking as it helps the child to feel safe, secure and comforted. It instils within a child a sense of well-being. Thus to break these patterns in a friendly manner, try to connect deeply with your child and help him to calm down during such situations by probably diverting his mind into other useful activities.

Thumb sucking is a very common phase in everyone’s life. Though it can commence from the time the baby is in the womb, it can last till the baby grows to a few years old. Most of the children automatically give up on this practice after 6-7 months, but some still may continue for 2-4 years. But by practising some good friendly hacks, one can easily give up on it!


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