The job of a parent is to worry. OK, maybe it’s not the job, but it surely is one of the day-to-day attributes of the job. Thumb sucking in your kid is one of those worry items. Is he or she sucking their thumb too much? Should they have stopped by now? Are they damaging their teeth?
Yes, in this arena, Linus from Peanuts is no role model. But you don’t have to worry too much; thumb sucking usually passes before children hit preschool age.
At Pound Ridge, we often deal with the after-effects of continued thumb sucking, so let’s use this toasty August blog before school resumes to get into this a little bit.
What is normal thumb sucking?
Thumb sucking usually begins in infants. This is a natural comfort behavior of a child. Sometimes during an ultrasound, you can even see a fetus in the womb sucking his or her thumb. Thumb sucking can help a child feel secure and happy, and it can be soothing when there is anxiety such as when the child is separated from his or her parents. Thumb sucking or pacifier use can also help a child fall asleep.
How long can it go on?
While How Long Has This Been Going On? may be a catchy little Gershwin tune, parents wonder about thumb sucking and when it should end. Here, Linus van Pelt is no role model, carrying around his blanket and thumb sucking well into elementary school. The American Dental Association recommends discouraging thumb sucking by the age of four. By this time, prolonged sucking can begin to affect the proper development of your child’s mouth, jaw, and teeth. Continued thumb sucking can cause the permanent teeth to be misaligned.
If it continues into the five or six-year-old age the pressure from sucking will lead to changes in the mouth and teeth. The ADA says that the front teeth may begin to jut forward, and the child’s bite will begin to open, meaning the upper and lower teeth won’t be able to touch. As the permanent teeth descend, they will start to become misaligned.
So, how do I break the habit?
In most cases, kids just stop sucking their thumb one day, especially if you ignore the behavior. Kids usually start to understand that there is a point where sucking the thumb isn’t cool in certain social situations or when they compare themselves to other kids.
Still, if it endures, try these tricks:
- Offer a pacifier to infants. They are easier to take away, obviously.
- Establish a chart and reward system, plotting progress on quitting.
- Encourage and praise all attempts to stop thumb sucking in your child.
If you have any questions about your child and thumb sucking, ask Dr. Smith or Dr. Feng next time you’re in. Call us at (914) 764-3540 to make an appointment.