How to Help Your Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb
Almost every infant sucks their thumb at some point. This normal activity is a way for babies to self-soothe, relieve stress, and even entertain themselves. While it is okay for infants and young toddlers to indulge in thumb sucking, once a child hits the age of two or three, the habit can cause some real problems. Here's what you need to know.
The Dangers Behind Thumb Sucking
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), thumb sucking in preschoolers can set your child up for braces in the future. In mild cases, tooth alignment may be altered, creating spaces between the front teeth. That may not seem like a big deal, but more severe thumb sucking can result in a complete alteration of the structure of the palate (the roof of the mouth). This can cause serious dental problems and even speech impediments down the line.
So what’s a parent to do? Here are a few suggestions offered by the staff at Wright Smiles Pediatric Dentistry to help your child break the thumb sucking habit:
Find out the real cause of the thumb sucking. Sometimes it simply becomes a habit that is hard to break, or it is something a child does out of boredom. But, in many cases, it is a way for an insecure child or one who is overly anxious to offer themselves comfort. Watch your child to see if there is a pattern to their thumb sucking activities. For instance, does that thumb make its way to your child’s mouth when they are tired? Stressed? Scared? Once you know when the activity is more likely to occur, it will be easier to develop a strategy for helping your child break the habit.
Create a diversion. Turning a child’s attention to a new activity is the best way to get children not to suck their thumbs. When you notice it happening, divert the child’s attention to something else without even mentioning it.
Be kind. You may think that yelling or handing down a punishment will squelch the activity, but in reality, it may make it worse. Kids suck their thumbs out of stress in most cases, and adding more stress won’t curb the activity.
Make it unpleasant. One way to get a child to naturally stop sucking their thumb is to dip the finger in something unpleasant tasting like vinegar. Just be sure that what you choose isn’t torturous to the child.
Offer plenty of praise. Watch for signs that your child is breaking the thumb sucking habit and praise them for every small success.
Be patient. The fact is, any bad habit is hard to break (remember your last diet?), so don’t expect your child to give up a habit that offers comfort overnight. Be patient with their progress and don’t show your child your frustration when they slip up.
the thumb sucking habit into a game or competition. Children love games and many thrive on competition; after all, they strive to show the adults in their life how capable they are! Use these childhood characteristics to your advantage by coming up with fun ways to help your child break this habit.
If you feel like you have tried everything, but your child continues to suck their thumb, be sure to talk with your pediatric dentist about it. They may be able to help give you more ideas or offer some dental strategies to protect those permanent teeth.
The staff at Wright Smiles Pediatric Dentistry understands how hard it is for children to break the thumb sucking habit and are always willing to help. Give us a call today to make an appointment.