Thumb Sucking

Dear Sharon,

What are your opinions about thumb sucking? Should I discourage this in my son?

Dear Mom or Dad,

Thanks for a question that is on the minds of many parents.

When children are lonely or upset, it can be reassuring to suck on something and the conveniently located thumb fits the bill for countless little ones. I sucked my thumb and I assume many adults reading this article did as well. It is important to remember that thumb sucking is a stage that passes. Some children use it for comfort for a longer period of time than others but thumb sucking definitely stops one day. If your child has latched onto thumb sucking for comfort it can be difficult to discourage his behavior. Sometimes a parent’s concerned attention to thumb sucking can actually increase its frequency. A relaxed attitude about it will probably prove more helpful to both of you in the long run. If you are concerned that your son is using his thumb excessively you might increase the amount of active play you do with him. It is hard to suck your thumb while laughing, playing and having a great time with your Mom or Dad. Active play can also help whatever loneliness; frustration or sadness may be behind some of his behavior. Unfortunately, in some instances years of extensive thumb sucking can lead to dental problems. Make sure you inform your dentist in case dental problems could develop for your child.

Some children hold onto thumb sucking for quite a while. If a thumb sucking child is in preschool or grade school they might begin feeling ashamed of their behavior, especially if it leads to teasing by other children or worry from adults. Unfortunately embarrassment and shame came make thumb sucking harder to give up. If you or your child think it may be time to find another form of comfort the steps you take should be gentle and supportive ones. Positive feedback, praise and rewards usually work much better than punishments, anger and disapproval. Many times the thumb sucker will have excellent ideas of things that could help. If you think about how hard it is for an adult to stop comforting behaviors like drinking or smoking it might help you offer guidance and support.
As a child gets older and his interests in friends and activities increase the need for thumb sucking often gradually subsides. Having fun is ultimately much more interesting.

As a parent you get to enjoy your child as he changes and grows, thumb and all.