The Big Debate on the Thumb Sucking Habit

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thumb sucking habit

The thumb sucking habit is a very common one and many kids put their thumbs or fingers in their mouth or a pacifier. As many kids have this habit, there are double the number of people, telling parents what a horrible habit it is. I have been a parent, who went through this phase so I know the kind of questions and doubts that arise in the mind of a parent. Let us talk about the different aspects of thumb sucking habit in a child and the debate around it.

Our Story

When Little Miss A turned 4 months old, she suddenly started developing the thumb sucking habit. From putting her thumb and hand to her mouth, she went on to putting her two fingers in her mouth and it became a big problem from that point.

 Everyone who saw her including family told me what a bad habit she was developing. I tried my best to keep her hand away, made her wear gloves or mittens and holding her hand, but there was no success. This started the big debate on the thumb sucking habit in my life.

When I went to her pediatrician for her next checkup and vaccination, I mentioned to him hoping to get a solution. His answer stumped me. He asked us to not force her to stop the habit. This is good for her and she will leave it on her till she is 4 years old, if not earlier. And if she does, there are ways to handle it, but leave it for now.

(You may like to read our post, How to Choose a Pediatrician for Your Baby)

The Thumb Sucking Habit

Once we were back from the pediatrician, I was convinced that I will not force Little Miss A, but there was a battle to be fought to convince others. I remember reading up a lot and then we just let her be. People had issues and we got a lot of advice, but we had decided to do what the doctor had said.

Many experts say that it is natural for babies to suck their thumbs or habit. Some develop the thumb sucking habit in the womb and continue to do so later as well. Parents fret that this will carry on later in life and pose problems. What we need to keep in mind is that we have to first handle the present. There are some things that parents should know thumb sucking before they get stressed.

Things to Know About The Thumb Sucking Habit

It is Normal

It is normal for babies to suck their thumbs or fingers because sucking is a natural reaction for them. All babies get their food by sucking and thus, this is a reflect action for them. For a funny take on thumb and finger sucking from a kid’s perspective, you must read this lovely post by Surbhi Rastogi.

Good for Breastfeeding

As the babies develop the skill to suck it helps in breastfeeding as well. Babies start the thumb sucking habit within a few weeks of being born, and thus, this assists in natural breastfeeding.

Calms the Baby

As my pediatrician had told us, the thumb sucking habit is the child’s way to self soothe and this has a lot of benefits in their growth. The thumb or the fingers are always available and the sucking calms them down. The sucking action is soothing for them. Sucking always does not mean they are hungry as babies suck as ‘non-nutritive sucking’ helps them in calming.

Psychological Benefits

The habit of sucking thumb or fingers has psychological advantages for the babies and helps in their growth. Some of the benefits are:

  • Keeps the baby secure and happy
  • Helps in coping with separation and toddler anxiety
  • Helps them to sleep on their own

As far as Miss A was concerned, she started sleeping through the night when she was four months old and when she woke up at night she went back to sleep on her own. Yes, she sucked her fingers but she did sleep better.

(You may like to read our post, 6 Tips to Handle Anxiety in Toddlers)

When and How to Stop the Thumb Sucking Habit

The thumb sucking habit is said to be natural reflex by the American Dental Association but they also say that this should be discouraged by the age of 4. Beyond this it has can affect the teeth alignment and also the thumb or the fingers.

We started telling Miss A about she needed to stop when she turned 3. We combined this with getting rid of diapers and told her she was a big girl now. It took time and we also had to apply a bitter liquid for 2 days, but she stopped in a few days and it was not so tough.

For parents struggling with the habit, I will list some ways which help.

  • Talk to the child about the thumb sucking habit and why is it bad. We spoke about germs and fingers and teeth getting spoilt. She did not stop it, but it definitely rung the bell.
  • Videos and books also have affect. YouTube has many videos which the child can see and these help them understand the disadvantages.
  • Bad tasting nail paint is what worked at the end of all the motivation talks and praise charts. She was somewhere convinced that she had to leave the habit but was doing more out of an addiction. When the fingers tasted bad, she stopped in two days thinking, ‘the fingers are bitter on their own as I am a big girl’.
  • Stickers and praise works for almost everything with kids and the thumb sucking habit is no exception.
  • With Miss A she sucked her fingers more when she watched TV or was sleeping or was bored. Distracting her at these times was a good idea. Sleep was something I did not focus more on, but the other two times decreased the intensity and also helped her in getting less addicted.
  • There are finger and thumb fingers covers available which are known to help. Our dentist had recommended the ones by T Guard but as they were not available in India, I never used them.
  • When the child starts play school, the teachers talking to them has a lot of impact.

(You may like to read our post, Is Your Baby Already 2 Years Old)

Conclusion

Many parents struggle and none of the above work. My suggestion from my experience is start working on the thumb sucking habit when the child is 2-3 years old, and if they still do it at 4, you should take medical help. There are other ways as well which doctors can suggest.

The habit at a point can get irritating, but always remember it has benefits. Some parents prefer to use a pacifier as that is easier to get rid of. Each child is different and the way to handle them is different too. Kids have different habits which are weird, and this is not the only one. You can read about more strange habits here.

As parents, never feel guilty and this does not reflect on your parenting. Never set unrealistic expectations and using force will make it worse. Remember, it is like an addiction and will take time and most kids will let go of the habit on their own. So relax and go with the flow.

We were often labeled careless and lazy parents because of the thumb sucking habit. I never got stressed about it and we managed to stop when Miss A was three. Have you or someone in your family struggled with the habit? Do let us know in comments how they managed to get rid of it.

33 COMMENTS

  1. Great post Arushi and you had explained different aspects of thumb sucking so well in this post. I think as a caring parent, we often over react on minor issues..sometimes things get sorted on their own at suitable times. my little one had a nail biting habit, when she was 2 and I got so anxious..we had done some creative efforts like keep her busy in different things and slowly she had left this habit. and I think same thing applies to thumb sucking as well and most of the kids left it till age 4..in complex cases, taking medical advice is best step.

  2. A very detailed and informative post on thumb sucking habit. I recently read in a psychology text book that according to one specific researcher thumb sucking is one way of babies providing sexual pleasure to themselves.Bizarre!

  3. Both my kiddos never did thumb sucking. But your post was was really very detailed. its good that that you pointed out its positive and negatives and talked about when it is alarming for the parents.

  4. So informative post-Arushi, Thumb sucking habit is very common among kids, I have seen my sister’s efforts to make my niece left-hand sucking, my mom use to apply bitter gourd juice on her thumb and finally, my niece get rid of this, the funny and strange part is now bitter gourd is her fav veggie,

  5. A very detailed and well-researched post on thumb sucking. I had this habit in my childhood and always had fear for my kids but fortunately, both my kiddos didn’t have this fetish and I was surprised too. It’s a common habit among kids as they want to have everything in their mouth the best sense they explore in their age. Must read for moms struggling over this.

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