THUMB SUCKING DURING EARLY YEARS

by 高莫娜 Mona
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Thumb sucking is a common behavior we can find in humans, captive ring-tailed lemurs, chimpanzees, and other primates. They basically place the thumb into the mouth and keep on sucking it for a long period of time. It might sound odd but it’s totally normal and healthy for infants to suck their thumbs, toys, pacifiers, or fingers. Among humans, children find security, emotional satisfaction and comfort while sucking thumb. This habit is somehow acceptable among early years but it should not be continued beyond the age of 5, when their baby teeth are replaced by permanent teeth. Thumb sucking can bring in dental problems and at times the damage is irreversible. Due to the prolonged sucking, the teeth alignment can be misplaced, resulting in the protrusion of the teeth or the wider gaps. The children with non-aligned teeth find it difficult to correctly pronounce the words and can also cause misaligned upper and lower jaws. These children are unable to master phonological awareness and phonemes because the roof of the mouth might result in malformation. 

How to Help Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking

Before pushing your child to quit the habit, keep in mind that thumb sucking is normal among infants. It should not be taken very seriously unless the permanent teeth start to appear and the habit is highly intensified. 

Under any circumstances, force should not be involved. The child must take an initiative to quit thumb sucking and family plays a vital role. To achieve your objective, you may offer some reinforcement through positive motivation. Thumb sucking is related to child’s emotional security and comfort, any negative motivation or reinforcement can harm their psychology and a child can become fearful and withdrawn. And this insecurity will drive the kids back to thumb sucking. 

So in any case, only appreciation and rewards can bring in fruitful results. Set a time limit, tell your child if she doesn’t suck the thumb for continuous 30 minutes, she’ll get to eat her favourite thing, or any other reward which suits you better. Later, gradually set the bar high and increase the time required to achieve the reward. Younger children need frequent rewards which older ones can be more understanding and can stick to your rules. 

Those children who understand the ill-effects of this habit and want to quit, cover their thumb with a band-aid so they can remember and take the thumb out. Check on your child before sleep and take the thumb out if he is sucking it during sleep. 

If older kids are sucking thumb, try to figure out if your child is fighting with any stress or pressure at home or at school. Aid your child getting rid of any uncomfortable situation, once it’s gone, quitting thumb sucking becomes easier. For more difficult cases, there are also some dental appliances to help a child prevent sucking. You may consult a dentist if you need so.

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