Parenting, Popular Stuff, Toddlers

Got a little thumbsucker on your hands?

Melissa Imbesi by Melissa Imbesi
July 18th, 2019

When my daughter was little, she had a gnarly dummy addiction. There was only one brand and one style that was acceptable to her demands and her cot was littered with them because not only did she need one in her mouth, she needed an entire dummy family of five as bedtime companions to hold onto as she slept. Even though we limited the time with her dum to sleep-only at around the age of two and a half, she still relied on those suckers to put her to sleep up until her fourth birthday. When we realised it was time to cut ties with old mate dummy, we decided to go cold turkey, which was a process that made her act like a mini crack head begging for a fix… but she got over it within a week or so and has been clean for seven years. Haaaaaa!

it’s a hard one to crack

The fact is, whether you’re big or small, breaking a habit is a real bitch to master. The advantage we had with the dummy addiction was that we could take it away, but if your child prefers to suck their thumbs, the challenge is a little trickier because removing a thumb really isn’t an option.

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Thumb sucking is a natural reflex in babies that can start way back in the womb. As the baby grows into a child, the thumb suck can become somewhat of a coping mechanism to provide comfort and self-soothing when needed, making it a mind/body connection that can be really tough to break.

So what do you do if you want to help eliminate the thumb sucking addiction as gently as possible for your little guy or gal?  We’ve rounded up a few tips that might help…

Reward them:

A bit of positive reinforcement goes a long way with kids, so instead of focusing on the negatives when you see them with their fingers in their mouth, make a super big deal of it when you notice they’re not. Reward charts are great for this and you just need to figure out what your kid’s ultimate currency is. My kids have a reward sticker chart for good behaviour and once they hit a certain number of stickers, they get a ‘Yes Day’, inspired by Jennifer Garner. This means they get to choose whatever they want to do from wake up to bedtime, so it could be waffles for breakfast, followed by a kick at the footy ground, an afternoon session at the movies, a skate at the ice rink and dinner at their fave place.  Get creative and make the reward as enticing as you can.

‘chewelry’ is an option to consider

Invest in some ‘chewelry’

It’s jewellery with a chewy twist, designed specifically for little mouths to suck or bite down on. Gently talk with your child about using this as an alternative to clamping down on their thumb or fingers and hopefully they’ll break the habit and eventually be able to let go of their chewelry when the time is right.

Arrange a chat with the dentist:

If you’ve got a dentist who is great with kids, organise for them to have a chat with your child at their next appointment. Authority figures can often spark kids to sit up and pay attention, so if they take the time to explain how thumb sucking affects their bite and teeth placement (of course this depends whether your child is old enough to understand) they might just take notice. You can also put a reward system into place here, so if they’ve made big improvements by their next appointment, you can slip the dentist a little something to hand to your child as a surprise for a job well done.

Ignore it:

For some kids, thumb sucking occurs because it gets them attention from mum or dad. Even if that attention is negative, or an assurance that you’ll sit them down and have a long-winded convo about it, it’s still more time with YOU. Of course, this isn’t always the case but if you suspect your little one might be popping their thumb in their gob and looking over to you to see whether it springs a reaction, try the old ignoring technique for a little while to see if it makes any difference.

Introducing the ‘thumbsie’ thumb sucking glove

Outside reinforcements:

For some kids, thumb sucking is a soothing, settling behaviour but for others, it’s a subconscious habit. There are lots of aids that can be used to help this, particularly if you find your kid likes to chuck their fingers in their gob while they sleep. Think about gently taping some gloves or mittens on their hands at bedtime (you can actually buy thumb-only gloves entirely for this purpose) or slather their hands in a natural, non-toxic hand cream that’ll probably taste like shit when they put their mitts in their mouth. Some even suggest dipping their thumbs in vinegar as an acidic tasting turn-off before bed.

Call in the professionals:

For some kids, thumb sucking can be a way to calm themselves down during anxious times. If you feel like your child is particularly anxious and relies on sucking their thumbs or fingers as a way to cope, it could be worth exploring the reasons behind their anxiety with a child psychologist, who may help your son or daughter find alternate methods for dealing with stressful situations.

Hopefully that helps give you some ideas on how to help tackle a really common childhood issue. Remember, the likelihood of your child sucking their thumb as a 25 year old is pretty low, however the impact it can have on their dental health is also something to keep in mind. However you choose to tackle it, remember YOU are the one who knows your child best so let your gut guide you on which method will work best.

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