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6 Thumb Sucking Prevention Tips Parents Need to Know

Chronic and frequent thumb sucking can cause changes to your little one’s bite. Experts agree, though, that thumb suckers under the age of 5 shouldn’t be pressured to stop since most children do give up the habit on their own.

Why Do Children Suck Their Thumb?

Thumb sucking is actually appropriate and useful behaviour for younger children. It’s comforting and entertaining all in one. So, it’s no surprise that more than three-quarters of infants suck on their fingers or thumbs during their first year. Usually, little ones turn to the thumb when they are upset, tired or just bored.
Even when the habit carries on after infancy, it’s rarely something for parents to worry about. It doesn’t often indicate any deep-set emotional problems, according to experts at the New York University School of Medicine.

Then Why do Older Children Engage in Thumb Sucking?

If babies and infants suck fingers and thumbs to feel secure and for comfort, why do older children do it? Because it is a way of self-soothing for them, too.
Thumb sucking is a natural reflex for infants. So, it’s something they just figure out on their own and it comes naturally. After all, babies need to suck more when they feed, so thumb sucking just fits in with the natural order.
It’s not particularly uncommon to see toddlers wandering around with their thumbs in their mouths, either. This is especially so when they’re frustrated or upset. Yet, thumb sucking in older children can lead to speech and dental problems, later on, even resulting in social consequences as they grow up.
Most kids give up sucking their thumb at around 2 or 3 years of age, but children who continue gnawing away on their thumbs after the age of 5 just seem to be in the habit of it.

What Causes Older Kids to Suck Their Thumbs?

While thumb sucking is comforting and soothing for babies, small triggers like anxiety, tension, insecurity, boredom, upset, or even tiredness can cause older children to seek comfort, too. If your child is beyond the toddler age and stuck in the habit, it’s going to take some understanding and patience to help them kick the habit.

Frequent Thumb Sucking Has Dental Consequences

Children beyond the age of 5 who regularly suck their thumbs risk affecting the way the teeth appear in their mouth. In fact, they risk developing gaps between the upper and lower teeth. In some instances, sucking the thumb on a regular basis can play a role in how the roof of the mouth shapes up.
What’s more, thumb sucking can impact the development of your little one’s jaw, eventually affecting their speech. The tongue muscles struggle to develop speech sounds like “th” and “s,” which become difficult for kids to say.
Regular self-soothing with the thumb can even cause the front teeth to develop over the lower lip, leading to buck teeth and a whole heap of self-consciousness.
Continued thumb sucking can even lead to your little one suffering from dry, cracked, chapped and brittle thumbnails.

Help Your Child Kick the Habit

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent or help your kids kick the habit. With patience, encouragement and the following 6 tips, it can be done!

1.      A Solid Reward System

The first step is to encourage your sweetheart to stop sucking their thumb with loads of support and praise. Explain to your child, in age-appropriate ways, why he or she needs to stop. Then, introduce a rewards chart system as an added incentive to keep thumb sucking at bay.

2.      Avoid the Temptation to Nag

As we’ve said, persistent sucking of thumbs is comforting. So, nagging, punishing and criticising your little ones is only going to cause stress and potentially make things worse. If you have a strong-willed toddler on your hands, they might just turn defensive and even try to hide the habit from you.

3.      Use Distraction as a Tool

Offer your child an alternate source of comfort, like a plush toy or a fun game. It’s a great way to keep their mind of thumb sucking at the times when they’re most likely to reach for their thumb, like in the car, at bedtime or their trip to the dentist!

4.      Keep Reminding Them

Just like with many habits, we do it without even realising it. That’s why it’s helpful to implement reminders to help your kids remember not to suck their thumb. From reminding them about rewards and distractions to using an unpleasant tasting nail polish in extreme cases, keep reinforcing the idea that thumb sucking is a bad habit (without nagging!). You could even put a cute band-aid over their thumb.

5.      Be Patient and Keep at It

With most things new, the first few days are the worst. Just when you think you’ve helped your child kick the habit, they might just relapse. The key is to be persistent and patient and eventually, you and your little one will overcome the habit of thumb sucking.

6.      Ask for Help

If you’ve tried the above tips and your child still sucks his or her thumb, it’s time to get help. Visit your orthodontist for practical forms of intervention and, if you feel the need, book an appointment with a child psychologist to ensure there’s no underlying distress. Sometimes, anxiety is the root cause of thumb sucking and other times it’s just plain natural.

You’ve Got This!

We know just how real the power struggle between parent and child is. This is especially the case when your little one isn’t willing to participate in ditching a habit. Finding a good balance of guidance, support and patience can try even the most persistent of parents.
But it all comes down to building the best oral health and orthodontic conditions for your child. If you’re worried about your child’s thumb-sucking habit or any other dental issue, the team at Medland Orthodontics are just a call away.
Book an appointment at Medland Orthodontics today and we’ll help you and your little one kick that thumb sucking habit!