Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thumb Sucking: Your Advice

This is my boy.  As you can see, he sleeps with a little blankie-bear and he sucks his thumb--our own little Linus.  He began sucking his thumb as a baby, which, at the time, seemed really convenient since we no longer needed to worry about misplaced and dropped nuks.  If he wanted comfort, he simply popped his thumb in his mouth as required.  That was 5 years ago and my philosophy all along has been that he would stop sucking his thumb when he was ready.  I do not believe you can or should try to force this sort of thing on a child.  
Recently he has begun to develop an awareness that most kids his age do not suck their thumbs--he brought this up to me one night and we then spent some time discussing that he could stop sucking his thumb when he wanted and I would be happy to support him in whatever ways would help--so he made a decision to stop sucking his thumb basically during the day or in front of other kids, all on his own initiative, without any further help from me.  That was several months ago and he no longer sucks his thumb during the day--but does still at night, or when he is really tired.  
Then, on a recent visit with our dentist, as she was examining his permanent teeth coming in, she told me that she believes he will have perfect teeth (like his mama, I might add) that will not require orthodontic work--that is, if he stops sucking his thumb and soon.  His thumb sucking is already impacting his teeth growing in now and she encouraged us to work with him to stop.  
So, of course, Beeper and I discussed the fact that sucking his thumb may damage his beautiful new big boy teeth and that he might require braces later on and that it would be better if stops now, blahblahblah.  And he is such a conscientious child that with no further discussion, has since been trying not to suck his thumb at night--but the fact is that he just cannot seem to fall asleep unless he pops that damn thumb in his mouth.  So while he has reduced the amount of time he spends sucking it during our bedtime routine, every evening he will finally turn to me and ask, "Mommy, can I suck my thumb now?" (as if I personally have imposed a thumb-sucking moratorium) --and then once his thumb hits his mouth, he is out in 5 minutes or less.  Of course, I then slyly try to slip his thumb out of his mouth--which sometimes works, and other times he locks his arm up with the force of a world champion arm wrestler (in which case I leave it)--and I am sure his thumb is going back into his mouth during the night anyway....
So, my question to all of you mamas out there with thumb-suckers of your own, how have you handled this?  Any suggestions for how best to deal with it?  Is there anything you have found that works to support a child through making this sort of change in behavior and habit?  I hope it is clear that I am looking for a gentle approach to this--nothing punitive, nothing that will upset him--but I do want to help him and encourage him as I believe he has already decided for himself that he wants to stop sucking his thumb, but just cannot get past the falling asleep hurtle...so, give me your best advice.  I am eager to hear what you have found, tried and what you know.

38 comments:

Max California said...

My sister sucked her thumb all through high school. It wasn't until she was about 15 I think, when we went over to visit our dad's side of the family that one of my cousin's said something to her that made her stop. I'm not sure what it was.

You could always try to put that disgusting stuff on his thumb? They have that for thumb-suckers? It's bitter and yucky. Kinda like what they put on your nails to stop you from biting them?

Lisa said...

The best way I have heard of is to place a sock on his hand at night. Very unpleasant to suck on, and offer some sort of reward if he can go without sucking his thumb for a certain amount of time.

Kim said...

Awww He's a sweetie pie! My son is the same way. He was a true thumb sucker all day and night. Then he weened himself off to just nights. Now he just started Kindergarten and he only sucks his thumb very very rarely. I've noticed it's when he's had a very long busy day. Usually I try to catch those days and have him take a nap (Come cuddle with me and he falls asleep. :). I love the sock idea! I'll have to try that.

Jacqui said...

We had the same kind of issue with my daughter. I wasn't too worried about her sucking her thumb, and she was pretty dedicated to it - particularly at times of stress and when tired. So that was fine until around 4 when the dental nurse pointed out the overbite and the fact her upper palate was becoming deformed. She was keen to stop too so we decided to take action. We tried bandaids but of course she just removed them, and anything else we put on her hand. So we started painting her thumb with that awful-tasting stuff. To be honest I felt kind of crap about it, taking away her comforting thing like that, but I also knew that she wouldn't be able to do it herself, even during the day, that she'd get teased about it eventually, and even if the damage could be fixed with braces who wants those unless you have to? So we put on the stuff and she cried and cried when she realised what was going on, but it worked. Days were instant and non-traumatic. The first couple nights were awful, she'd surface a bit, pop in the thumb and then wake up with a huge fright at the taste. Then it was starting to put the thumb in, realising she shouldn't, and waking up because she couldn't soothe herself back to sleep. After three nights it was fine. We kept painting for two weeks. Then about 6 months later we had a bit of a regression, painted the thumb for a few days, and that was it. I kind of miss my little thumb sucker, but her overbite has disappeared and she doesn't seem to miss it too much. How extreme you need to be probably depends on your child, try the less drastic measures first and progress up to the hard-core methods if you need to!

Jodie said...

My daughter sucked her thumb until she was about 9. Then she had to have dental plates (not due to the thumbsucking -she needed her jaw re-aligned). She couldn't suck her thumb while wearing them so it stopped. We had a few teary nights at first . I hope it all works out.

Stephanie Rose said...

Mine too! how exhausting it is to constantly be taking it out. He's 4 now and we have knocked it down to mostly at night...mostly. The dentist has recommended putting some guard in his mouth - we are trying that in a couple months.....I'll let you know how well that works - will probably blog about it - www.0bella-rose0.blogspot.com.

p.s. we pushed the passy with our 2nd, to try and avoid this, and it worked. He didn't want a passy to begin with, but took it and it was successful. He is 13 months now and we took the passy away at 12 months - no problems at all.

katieh said...

For what it's worth - I was a nighttime thumb sucker probably up to the age of 8. Because the thumb pushed on the front two teeth it caused a gap between those teeth and my childhood dentist said all sorts of scary things to my mum, who then passed it on to me. she tried painting that foul tasting stuff on my nail (but to be honest there are lots of reasons for putting your finger in your mouth and anyway, if you're determined you can just suck and it goes away after a few minutes.)

anyway the point is despite all the effort it didn't make me stop - i grew out of it when i didn't need it any more, and the gap between my teeth closed over time. I haven't had any problems with my teeth (beyond fillings) and i never did have to have braces.

My advice - if he needs to suck his thumb for a bit at night, he needs to suck his thumb. It won't be forever. He's shown that already. Maybe a second opinion from another dentist would help?

ps. I know adults who still (very very occasionally suck their thumbs and their teeth are fine.)

Scented Sweetpeas said...

Non of mine are thumb suckers but I was and must confess still do sometimes :-) My teeth are fine, I did have a brace for a while but my teeth are not bucked even now. We tried painting that horrible nail stuff on my nails (the stop biting stuff) to make my thumb taste horrid which worked a bit.

Baye said...

I come from a family of quite a few finger/thumb suckers. My kids all sucked one finger or another. Some needed braces because their teeth were crowded. Not one had a problem with protruding teeth because of the finger sucking.

In fact my niece sucked the two middle fingers-- upside down for years! Now if any one was going to have protruding teeth, she would. Not so. She has beautiful teeth.

I've never seen a bunch of preschoolers with teeth sticking out from sucking their fingers. How can that not be if this habit causes that to happen? They've had a few years to do the damage--a time period usually as long or longer than braces are on to align teeth.

I wouldn't worry. How many adult thumb suckers do you know? He'll stop.

Duzza Bear said...

All right, was hoping I could post this anonymously, but it looks like I can't. There are lots of adult thumbsuckers out there (google it), myself bring one if them. We just don't do it in public. Can't believe I just wrote that online! It feels like I'm coming out, or something.

To clear a few things up, it does wreck your teeth. I had braces and gorgeous teeth which I have since messed up again. However, if you were to have braces and then maintain wearing a retainer for a while each day I think you'd be fine.

A sock's NOT going to work. Maybe on a baby, but it'll be pulled off in no time by any thumbsucker worth his salt who has even vague control of their limbs!

I still remember when my parents tried to poison me as a child with the thumb paint and I can still taste that stuff. I never let them put it on again, and my parents were not sorties who were easily swayed.

I'm not actually sure why I'm posting since I have no real advice. I know my cousin who couldn't quit got some spiky thing put on the roof of her mouth when she was about 9 or 10 and that worked for her, but some of us are pretty faithful to the old thumb. It was easier to quit smoking than to quit my thumb, believe me, I've tried. At least cigarettes aren't attached to your body. Rarely did I wake up unconsciously smoking!

Holly said...

You know, I have to tell you guys I was a little hesitant about blogging this subject because I thought it might be a little controversial--in how people might respond, how they might feel, what sorts of things it might dredge up. I want to make something clear--I asked this question because I am genuinely interested in what may have worked for some in helping their kids (or themselves, as the case may be--one of my dear friends is an adult thumbsucker, by the way, so I know they are out there and I am sure it is entirely common), but also wondering if some of you just went screw it and let it be and felt that was okay. Because I have to admit I am little inclined to say screw it--but that is only if Beeper is adamant about not stopping--but because he has shown interest in stopping and is wanting to try, well, I want to support him in that. So this is where I am--and thank you to everyone so far who has been so candid in sharing your experiences--be those your own or those with your kids. It is a hard subject to discuss I think because sucking your thumb is a source of comfort and security and who wants to take that away, right? But at the same time, for me, I want to help Beeper if I can, if he wants it. But the one thing I will ask is that people do not judge one another--share your opinion, your experiences--but respect anyone else who comments (not that anything is out of hand, but I just want to be sure people are respectful on this subject to one another because it is a sensitive subject)

JJ said...

I was a thumb sucker until 8 or 9 and my parents tried EVERYTHING to get me to stop (painting my thumb, the spiky thing in the mouth, calling the police the thumb police, etc). I always found a way around it.

What I'm saying is, he will stop when he doesn't need it anymore and if you're OK with that then leave it (you can still give him support to stop when he's conscious of it). I did have to have braces but lots of kids who suck their thumbs don't.

sneezerville said...

old adage: rub something super spicey on their thumb. (doesn't work if they like spicey.)
give them a substitute: like a carrot or toothpick. they just need something there.
constantly remind them.
keep them super busy with their hands so that they can't.
will take a long time to change their habit. i sucked my thumb as a kid. i knew how hard it was to quit and what it did to my teeth. so i was a super mean mom and everytime my babies tried to put their tumbs in the mouths, i pulled them out. so that they never had the chance to start. also didn't give them a fouler so they didn't have that to rely on either. i know i am soooo mean.

JakDeeandKids said...

I was a thumb sucker until 13 and my best friend is still a thumb sucker. Isn't thumb sucking all about self soothing? In some ways, thumb sucking is good (let's face it, there are other self soothing activities that are more harmful -- such as food/overeating -- and that was I replaced my thumbsucking with!). I wonder if it would be helpful to talk to Beeper about how thumb sucking makes him feel or what he feels when he wants to suck his thumb and see if he can come up with some other soothing things (extra cuddle time with mom or dad, rubbing his feet together -- that's what my daughter does-- having his tummy or back rubbed as he goes to sleep.....just a thought.

lisaestrada said...

I bandaged both of my daughter's thumbs at night, and she gradually
stopped trying to suck. She was 4 years old and she wanted to stop. It didn't take long, but she was ready.
Maybe you can bandage his thumbs after he falls asleep?

Holly said...

JackDee and Kids--I really like that suggestion about talking to him about what he is feeling when he wants to suck his thumb and then talking about other things he might find soothing...nice, gentle idea.

jek-a-go-go said...

your beeper bebe seems to be a very soulful child. i think your encouragement is awesome and he seems to be the kind of kid that responds to discussion. keep those talks open, ask questions. give him the opportunity to think about why he does it. perhaps soon you will be able to brainstorm ideas on how to stop, get silly, write a story with beeper bebe as the main character. maybe someday, sooner rather than later, you will be able to replace the thumb with an extra special softie (a thumb? heehee).

totally not the same thng but did you know they make thumb wrestling finger puppets? mucha lucha!

xo
~jek

michellel said...

I also was a thumbsucker well into my preteens. When I was awake/aware, I never did...but there were mornings I woke up with a pruny thumb...so obviously it was happening without my conscious thought!

I hated sleepovers because I thought someone might see me doing it in my sleep. My parents had the forked mouthguard put in...I had the tines bent apart in no time to make room for my thumb! They painted the nasty-tasting stuff onto my thumbs. The taste doesn't last :(

I had braces on through much of high school. I now have three children, none of whom have been thumbsuckers, and all have been short-term (less than a year) pacifier babies. I've been told at least two of them will need braces...I am not sure that you can predict or prevent the need for orthodontia.

And even though a child recognizes the difference in their soothing behavior and WANTS to stop, there isn't much to be done, in my opinion, without adding shame or upset to their life!

Threaded Basil said...

Neither of my kids have sucked their thumbs or used a pacifier, but I remember when I was younger I was so attached to my pacifier, and my parents made me give it up before I was ready. I was pretty little [2], but I still remember the heartache - night time was always a really hard time for me growing up. I think it's so important that he wants to stop - you will probably have a lot more success in the coming weeks. The only thing I can think of is helping him find something else that can comfort him - something that can eventually replace thumb sucking [for me I always turned to stuffed animals/dolls]. Maybe even something really special you make him, or go out on a special date and let him pick something out.

But I would like to say that my 'mom instincts' have never steered me wrong, and I encourage you to keep listening to them, no matter what advice you get. You know your child the best!

Summer said...

I haven't read all of the comments, but my experience as a child was very much like katieh. I sucked my thumb until I was about 10. My parents offered rewards (a new special stuffed animal, that I longed for for years), tried painting the stuff on my thumb, scaring me with what the dentist said, telling me my teeth wouldn't be pretty, recruiting family members to tell me to stop any time they saw me doing it, and it all just made me feel bad and ashamed because I didn't know how to stop, didn't really want to, and didn't understand what the big deal really was.It still makes me sad to think about it today. I was a very sensitive child, and the guilt really stayed with me. I hate that something that was harmless self comfort was used to make me feel guilty and bad about myself.
So, I want to commend you for your sensitivity. What a lucky little boy! It sounds like he is fairly self-aware and sensitive himself, so I would discourage any kind of reward/punishment (because of my personal experience). I would say talk to him again about the night time and maybe see if there are some other things to try to get to sleep. You could have some ideas for him, and ask him for his own ideas. Things that might make him feel nice and comfy in a similar way. This is what we did with my 2 year old when we weened off of breastfeeding. We talked about snuggles, having a drink of water, etc. We just changed the ritual. I think that's key, changing up the bedtime ritual and making it special in a different way. It took a couple of weeks, but I was always there to comfort him if he got upset. Good luck, and again, your boy is lucky to have such a sweet mama!

Kelly said...

I just went through this with my almost 4 year old. We had been talking for a while (with him) about not sucking his thumb all time--truly, he did it absentmindedly in addition to in his sleep. He really wanted to stop and tried so hard, but he just couldn't do it. So I told him I was going to put something on his thumb that would make it taste yucky. I bought the no-bite nail polish and put it on his thumb. He was fully cooperative and understood what it was and why I was doing it. He accidentally put his thumb in his mouth a few hours later and then he just stopped completely. I kid you not. One day, one application, one taste of that stuff and he just stopped. I was astounded. I thought it would be a much tougher battle. I waited a few weeks to be sure it "took" and then we celebrated his success by buying him a special new toy he wanted. He has had once slip since, about a month later, and he ASKED for the yucky nail stuff so he wouldn't suck his thumb. Best of luck!

mary said...

my 14 yo daughter sucked her thumb till she was 7+. While she needs braces now, she sure slept well as a baby.....THE most content of my 4 kids. Sleep back then is worth every penny the braces are costing now. We got a pink knit glove and cut all fingers short and left the thumb uncut. She carried around this bunny and would rub her nose while she sucked her thumb. She still brings 'BUN-BUN' when we travel or when she goes to summer camp

Beth- the mama bee said...

I'm in the same boat. I figure I can't stay up all night and monitor... My 5 year old doesn't do it during the day anymore, but what happens in bed stays in bed.

Lesley said...

What a sweet kid! He is obviously already so self-aware and trying to minimize the thumb sucking. I think you are already doing the perfect thing...just supporting him.

I hate the dental scare tactics. I wasn't a thumb-sucker and didn't use a paci and I had extensive dental work from 6 years old to 16 (crowded mouth). And, my husband was a thumb sucker until 2nd or 3rd grade (I think) and he has the perfect teeth!

I sometimes wish that my little guy had a way to self-soothe. He would never take a paci or anything.

It sounds like he is going to take care of it himself with your support in due time...

bet[c] said...

my daughter sucked her thumb until age 4. Then she decided to stop. She was fine during the day. But couldn't help herself at night. So we put bandaids on her thumb at night. And she did great! No more thumb sucking (and she got to go to Sea World as a reward!)

Catherine et Olivier said...

Hi ! I love your site ! thanks for it !!
About your little one thumb... I did suck mine until I was 10 years old... and never had teeth problem at all.
Please do not worry that much... The bitter stuff to put on nails is awful and i remember washing my hands before to be able to put my thumb in mouth ! As soon as your son will decide to try not to suck his thumb, it will be a success... Be patient...

Dawn said...

How about some sort of sticker chart? Let him be the one to decide in the morning if he needed it or not and he can decide at night if he wants that sticker in the morning.

I wouldn't count what he does in his sleep though since he can't control that. I am sure we all have bad habits when we sleep.

Good Luck

Jen Craun said...

Been in this VERY SAME SPOT. My daughter had turned her baby teeth in full rotation, and they were beginning to impact the larger teeth trying to come in. And Bella is also a very conscientious little wonder...

it helped her to have her lovey bunnies ear. it was somewhat slender like a thumb, and just something to put there when she really wanted and/or had the habit of sliding her thumb in...going to sleep mostly.

she tapered off of this on her own. it was a plush terry fabric that was probably a lot less satisfying than her thumb...but sort of filled the empty spot while she transitioned. I would see her frustratingly bite down on it...like building her confidence that she COULD quit. In hindsight it seems like it was a quick several nights, and she was over it.

Good luck. I enjoy reading your lovely blog.

Mamie Girl said...

I too was a thumb sucker till my early teens. My advice would be that you should ask him if there is somthing else that he could use to comfort himself with when he is tired, though it may not be as satisfying as his thumb it might just be enough to get him to sleep. I have noticed that even in my adult years I often wake up with my hand in front of my mouth but with no thumb in there- its just comforting to have somthing there. May be a special blanky, a teddy or a special pillow. I guess what i am trying to say is it may be easier to swap what comforts him than to remove a comfort all together.
Btw my DH grandmother still sucks her thumb at 70 and has never had teeth problems :)

An Art Nest said...

I doubt you will think this is encouraging but sometimes I go to wake up my 9 year old and she will be sucking her thumb. I tried the nasty tasting nail polish, wearing mittens to bed blah, blah, blah. She stopped publicly sucking her thumb when she started kindergarten - I started gently pulling her thumb out of her mouth and she would kind of blush...they don't even know they are doing it. I also started preaching about germs from putting fingers in mouths...
good luck!

Mama Hoot said...

I don't have advice...I just read your post and had to read all the comments because I have a 16 month old that sucks her two middle fingers. We tried the pacifier and it was firmly rejected. When she gave herself a cuticle infection and we had to prevent her from sucking, she switched from her right to her left and never went back. We tried the paci again at that time and it was rejected again. She mostly only sucks them for sleep, just like Beeper, and she only does so to fall asleep or when waking in the night to fall back asleep. I haven't the foggiest when or if she will quit on her own...so thanks for posting despite the controversy. I appreciate the post.

Rae said...

Oh dear. I have no idea. But I'm going to be in the same boat as you as my little Clementine is also a serious thumb sucker. So I'll be staying posted to see what YOU come up with... :)

Jennifer said...

I am thinking of trying this with my thumb-sucking girl when the time comes.
http://cutsewrepeat.blogspot.com/2010/03/thumb-suckers-beware.html

Score said...

At age 6, my mom told me I could continue sucking my thumb and give up my blanket or keep my blanket and quit sucking my thumb. I chose to keep the blanket. She also painted my fingernails as an incentive to stop. If I was a big girl with fingernail polish, I was too old to suck my thumb. She also threatened to put tabasco on my thumb...good luck!

rynrose said...

Have you ever considered some Craniosacral Therapy? I understand that thumb-sucking often begins as a way to "self-adjust" the bones of the palate. I don't know for older children, but I have seen babies who were "aggressive" thumb-suckers stop needing to suck after treatment (also have seen it help nursing babies with poor latch.). Might be worth finding someone who works with kids in your area. Craniosacral Therapy is very gentle.
Good luck!

Mirjam said...

I'm still sucking my thumb ;), never had braces (no perfect teeth either, but my dentist didn't think a brace was neccesary)...
If my kids would suck their thumb, I would let them do it....

Lizliterarius said...

I sucked my thumb for years as a child. My parents got all the scary tooth stories and I eventually had to stop when I broke that thumb at about four. Mom reports that's about the time I began to pick my nose and chew my fingernails. I don't think that's a coincidence. Finally stopped doing both of those and became a chronic overeater. (Don't I sound like a wonderful normal person? I am mostly not nuerotic these days, really I am!)

Point is, I never needed braces. Even kept my wisdom teeth! My sister who used a pacifier? Three years in braces after some very painful tooth extractions.

Let him suck at night as needed...I'm living proof it's better not to flounder for a substitute soothing mechanism. There are lots worse things then sucking ones thumb when it comes to oral fixations.

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