Real Talk: Should You Stop Thumbsucking or Just Let the Kids Be?

The habit of thumb-sucking is one of those little things widely debated by parents. Some firmly believe it should be discouraged for health reasons. Others take a more lax approach, just letting the kids be. Believe it or not, both camps are correct. It may sound odd, but really, the key is to know when the habit is normal and when it’s not.

When It’s Okay When It’s Enough

Infants have a natural inclination to suck their thumb. In a way, it’s a communication signal for moms. It indicates that a baby is hungry and wants to eat. In some instances, however, even after breastfeeding, you’d notice your baby putting their thumb in. In this case, it’s not a signal for feeding time anymore. It’s a self-soothing strategy. Babies, still unfamiliar to their environment, need a sense of security. The thumb-sucking habit puts them in that calm, safe psychological state. As they grow older, they carry on this routine, say, when they need to be alone in their room to sleep or when they’re bored waiting for their turn in line for the ice cream. In all these cases, it’s okay to leave the kids be. Over time, they wean off the habit naturally.

Now, if they do continue with the habit until the age of four, that’s when you have to do a bit of intervention. According to a pediatric dentist in Murray, by that time, they’ve already been making the habit for far too long that it could affect the kid’s developing jaw and teeth. When this catches up with permanent teeth erupting, there could be misalignment problems, which would ultimately require orthodontics. You also have to pay attention to the intensity of the sucking. Kids who are too aggressive, those who make a popping sound while doing it are more likely to develop teeth problems early on than those who aren’t. If such is the case of your child, you need to intervene immediately.
girl thumb sucking while reading

Breaking the Habit

Again, in most instances, children will unlearn the habit over time. But if the kids don’t quit on their own, you would need to step in for help. The first step is to tell them clearly why you want them to stop. Kids are more likely to commit to a certain action when they understand what it’s for. From there, plan for positive reinforcement. Give them little rewards for days when they didn’t thumb suck. Perhaps, an extra hour of screen time or outdoor play? You may want to mark those no-sucking days as well in a cute calendar. This way, they can see their progress and feel more motivated to quit on it altogether.

At the same time, watch out for triggers. When in babies, as mentioned, thumb-sucking is natural; in young toddlers, there’s almost always a stressful situation triggering it. Be ready to offer a hug or a pep talk when you’re in those situations so they won’t resort to the habit. At times when you catch them in the act, never scold or shame them. This will just backfire in your goal to have them quit. Instead, be discreet. Perhaps, make a hand signal only you and your child know.

How’s Your Child’s Oral Health Habit?

The bottom line is, there’s a time to let kids be in their thumb-sucking attachment, and there’s a time to break it off. Know when the right time is. 

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