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The Positive Side of Thumb Sucking

Diane Luke
Senior Editor, TipsHire

It is natural to worry that your little one seems to have developed a real passion for sucking his thumb on which he does not give up except when he is temporarily sucking on a pacifier or nipple. Your concern increases as years go by, and the baby grows up but the habit remains. Next, I’ll show you the negative effects but also the positive side of thumb-sucking.

For first, did you know that the thumb-sucking is a normal act for a baby? Even in the intrauterine life, the baby does this because he is unconsciously preparing himself for breastfeeding.

In fact, it is known that all babies have the tendency to put different objects into their mouths because that makes them understand the surrounding world.

Causes of Thumb Sucking

Children have a natural instinct to suck, which diminishes over time, starting at 6 months of age. However, some children continue to suck on their thumbs after this period because this habit has a calming effect on children. In some cases, the sucking of the finger can become a habit in infants or young children when they are hungry, agitated, sleepy, or bored.

Approximately 70% to 90% of children suck their thumbs so hard that they swallow their thumbs. Of these, most will give up this habit between 3 and 6 years.

The Negative Side of Thumb Sucking

A child who is thumb-sucking is often placing the finger on the tongue so that the finger pushes off the upper teeth and lowers the lower teeth. The child can develop a callus, which is a tissue in excess, formed by scarring at the level of a lesion, at the fingertips if he sucks very hard on the finger.

Some children also have other activities while they suck their finger, such as rubbing a piece of material, pulling the ear lobes, or twisting a pair of hair between their fingers.

Thumb-sucking in children of less than 4 years of age is not a problem, however, in children older than 5 years of age, who have to keep thumb-sucking at a high intensity, problems can arise, including:

  • emotional problems – some preschoolers who suck on their fingers may feel shameful when their children laugh at them. Parents can instill a feeling of disrespect if they laugh at them or punish them.
  • problems of dentition – thumb-sucking for a long period can cause dental problems such as abnormal teeth development. Abnormal teeth alignment can be corrected after the baby stops sucking his finger. The longer the suction period of the finger, the greater the risk that the child will need orthodontic therapy to correct the problems
  • speech problems – the most common speech problems are pronunciation issues

Thumb Sucking Treatment

Therapy is indicated when:

Thumb-sucking is associated with hair loss, especially in children between 12 months and 24 months of age

  • baby doesn’t give up this habit, and he even continues it with a high intensity after the age of 5 years
  • speech or tingling disorders occur

Therapy for the cessation of this habit is more effective if the child cooperates and wants to quit. Therapy is very varied, experts having different opinions regarding this issue.

Some consider that therapy started without child co-operation is unlikely to succeed and may even cause a worsening of this habit, while other specialists think that therapy is needed even when the child does not agree with it.

It is important that the therapy to be postponed when the child goes through a stressful period, after a disease, the loss of a pet, after moving to the new home, or when there are some family problems.

Some parents do not accept this practice even in children younger than 4 years of age.

Experts’ opinions are different regarding the differences between thumb-sucking and sucking on a pacifier. One of the advantages of the pacifier is that it can be removed at any time. However, it has been shown that pacifier-sucking increases the risk of developing ear infections.

The thumb-sucking problem is often solved with home therapy, such as offering the baby different rewards or prizes when he stops to thumb-suck upon his parents’ request.

The Positive Side of Thumb-Sucking

In accordance with the American Dental Association (ADA), thumb-sucking is a normal gesture for every infant.

Thumb-sucking is a gesture used by babies to calm down, induce sleep, or to comfort themselves.

Some infants and toddlers are usually using the thumb-sucking method to make themselves feel secure and happy. Thumb-sucking is also a soothing act for infants, who also use this method as a ‘calm down mechanism’ when anxious or separated from their parents.

Thumb-sucking is often observed in the evening, right before bedtime.

The positive side of thumb-sucking remains positive until the age of 4, and if this habit is still present in your kid’s life you must try to make your kid quit this habit.

Here are the first 4 steps you should follow in order to help your kid quit this habit:

  • give him a pacifier to suck on – pacifiers are more easily to be removed later
  • praise your kid whenever is attempting to stop sucking on his thumb
  • reward your kid whenever if he stops thumb-sucking and note his progress on quitting this habit
  • teach your kid about the positive effects quitting thumb-sucking has on dentition, health, and beauty.

If none of these methods works and your kid is still thumb-sucking after the age of 5, you might need to take him to a specialist control in order to solve this problem.

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