Thumb-sucking is a natural and absolutely harmless habit for babies and toddlers up to three years of age. However, starting at the age of three, if the thumb is sucked intensively and frequently, it can lead to problems with teeth and jaw, abnormal drinking, eating and swallowing patterns, speech disorders and disordered breathing. Therefore, most dentists recommend children stop sucking their thumbs by age three. Everything you need to know about your child’s thumb-sucking and the weaning period.
The sucking reflex is essential for newborns and it’s not surprising that nature has taken appropriate precautions to anchor it well. Sucking on the finger often begins in the womb. As soon as the child is born, breast and bottle feeding triggers a pleasant feeling and security.
Even if the actual sucking reflex subsides after a few months, a strong connection between sucking and pleasant feelings has already been established by then.
Every child is different. Some show no interest in pacifiers and their thumb. Others can’t get enough of it. It’s totally normal and safe for your child to suck on their thumb. It helps a child to calm themselves down and to fall asleep. Research shows that thumb-sucking automatically decreases by age three and four.
Benefits of Thumb-Sucking
Thumb-sucking has its benefits. In contrast to a pacifier a thumb can’t get lost and is always available for the child. This is especially useful for little children, as it helps them to calm down and sleep through the night.
In addition, a study from New Zealand with 1000 children found a reduced risk of allergies in thumb-sucking children. The study was published in Pediatrics in 2016.
The Negative Effects of Thumb-Sucking
However, starting at the age of three, if the thumb is sucked intensively and frequently, it can lead to problems with teeth and jaw. Therefore, most dentist recommend children stop sucking their thumbs by age three. Long-lasting thumb-sucking leaves clear marks on teeth and jaws, such as crooked front teeth and an open bite. Furthermore, the growth of the jaw can be hindered and the motor skills of the tongue impaired. In 40% of the cases thumb-sucking is the cause of orthodontic treatments in children and teenagers.
So there are good reasons for children to stop sucking their thumbs. However, this is often not that easy, as some children have gotten very used to sucking their thumb and, in contrast to a pacifier, you can’t just let the thumb sucking glove disappear.
What to Avoid
Forbidding thumb-sucking or punishing children doesn’t work and is often counterproductive. It only leads to uncertainty for the children, who then often calm themselves down with more thumb-sucking. A negative dynamic arises very quickly which can but a massive strain on the parent-child relationship
By the way, do not just pull the thumb out of your child’s mouth. This may frustrate the child and doesn’t do any good either. Typically, the thumb is back in the mouth just a few seconds later and the child and parents are more frustrated than before.
How to Stop Thumb-Sucking
There are many ways to help your child break the habit of thumb-sucking. As a parent, you should take on the role of a companion and supporter and not of a teacher and punisher. You can’t force anything, the child will set the pace. You may need a lot of patience as breaking the habit takes some time.
Below you can find an overview of possible strategies to help your child stop sucking their thumb. Which strategie suits best depends on your child and their age.
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