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Written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
26 April 2021

Giving up Thumb Sucking

How to solve Thumb sucking in a few simple steps!

Your youngster has found that when it comes to comfort, sucking their thumb beats their favourite plush toy or their favourite Blankie   Often, thumb-sucking occurs while drifting off to sleep, watching TV, when they're scared, and when they're feeling upset. It may not have been a problem up until this point because they were only using it to calm themselves for short periods of time, but you now believe it's time to try to break this habit.

While it is totally understandable to want your child to quit, it may be helpful to know that some of the alleged risks associated with thumb sucking may not actually exist. These are some typical misconceptions:

1. My kid will still be sucking his thumb when he’s 12 years old!

Unlikely. According to statistics, the majority of kids who suck their thumbs stop doing so between the ages of 2 and 4, with less than 9% continuing into the age of 5. In addition, the majority of children who are still sucking their thumbs at age 5 will quit because they begin to connect with their peer groups and don't want to be the only child in kindergarten listening to stories with their thumb in their mouth.

2. Teeth can be affected

This may be the case after the childrens permanent teeth emerge, which typically occurs between the ages of six and eight. Chronic thumb sucking in older children has the potential to alter the morphology of the mouth cavity. Fortunately, most children will have have quit on their own by that point.

3. They rely on it as a crutch

It is true that young children who discover their thumbs do use them for comfort, this does not mean that they won't learn coping techniques for stress management later in life.

4. Use a pacifier instead.

So many parents tell me they prefer their child use a pacifier since they can take it away at any point.  Yet, in my experience, many parents make this claim but don't follow through. It can become challenging to take away the pacifier from the child if it has become the child's sleep prop and they use it for comfort. Many such parents allowed the usage of pacifiers to continue for far longer than they initially intended. One of my clients said that she continued to let her 5-year-old sleep with his pacifier for just this reason.

With these typical misconceptions dispelled, there is truly no right or wrong decision—just the parent's own preference. There are many different approaches to accomplishing things, just as some women bottle-feed while others exclusively breastfeed or some parents use time-outs while others do not.
If you have made the decision that it the thumb sucking must stop, here are some strategies to assist your child in permanently giving it up.

TIPS : For kids 3 years and up

Finding the root of your child's thumb sucking is the key to finding a solution.

Each child is unique, and there are different reasons why they may suck their thumbs for example;  when trying to asleep, when they're upset, and others at any opportunity!  In each case, it has developed into a habit, and we all know that habits are hard to break. A reward system is one very useful tool. Sometimes all that is required to get kids to stop sucking their thumbs is to offer a benefit/reward. Finding out why and when your child goes to her thumb is crucial first step, though.

Step 1: In the first week, have a pen and paper close at hand and record each and every instance of your kid putting their thumb in their mouth. Review your list at the end of the week to see if there are any patterns. Are they sucking their thumb when they're watching the favourite TV show at 4pm?  Is it a response to being shy or uncomfortable around the other toddlers at the playgroup?

Step 2: Identify what the benefit is for your kid. If, for instance, you see that she always inserts her thumb when she hurts herself, you may draw the conclusion that the thumb aids in pain management. If you observe that it goes in every time they are watching TV, then the thumb is being used when they not actively engaged or idle.

Step 3: Remind and redirect: Now that you are aware of when they suck their thumb you can provide them with something in exchange. For example,  Offer them a bowl of grapes to eat as they watch their favourite show.  You can run over and give them a big cuddle if they suck his thumb after they've hurt themselves.

Step 4: A reward  chart showing days without sucking is really helpful. Y ou can offer a reward,  a small treat or little toy at the end of a day without thumb sucking. I also believe that results are better when they are immediate. If your child is old enough, consider having them share with you  whenever they feel like sucking her thumb, but doesn't. You can offer them a reward for resisting the urge, perhaps something small like an M&M or jelly bean.

Thumb suckers at night:

Bedtime is the most common time for thumb sucking, so finding an alternative that can be comforting is important. Tying a ribbon around the thumb, or a light pair of gloves can work as a reminder so when your child brings his thumb to his mouth he gets an instant reminder about what the goals are. You can also buy your child a new sleep toy that has texture that she can rub her thumb against instead of sucking it.

Keep in mind that it takes time, patience and lots of encouragement to break bad habits, which are difficult to do. Punishment or constant nagging don't seem to be effective ways to break bad habits, in my opinion.

Try to avoid turning it into a battle of wills, children are notorious for power struggles.

If the child is old enough, you can sit her down and discuss a habit you struggled to kick (drinking coffee or biting your nails, for example), explaining why you want them to stop. You'll be more successful if you can find a way of making it about them rather than about you. For instance, if you are concerned about their teeth, you may comment on how wonderful it would be if he had the best smile in their school group photographs.

Before you know it, your child will stop sucking their thumb after they realise that there are other ways to self-soothe.

Article written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
Based in Singapore
Trained in the Sleep Sense Program

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