Is thumbsucking bad? Here’s what you need to know about the effects of thumbsucking and how to help your child kick the habit.
What can you read in this article?
- Is thumbsucking bad?
- Thumbsucking vs. pacifier
- How to help your child stop this habit
Sucking is one of the natural reflexes that babies have.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, all infants are born with an intense need to suck. In fact, they start sucking their thumb or their other fingers while still in the womb (you may even witness them doing this during an ultrasound). This ability is necessary for newborn babies to procure milk without having to be taught.
Apart from this, sucking on thumbs, fingers and other objects such as pacifiers enables babies or young children to feel secure in their surroundings. It helps them learn about the world. Sucking keeps them calm and relaxed and even helps them go to sleep.
As a parent, you might be concerned about whether using his thumb or the pacifier is really beneficial or harmful to your baby. In the battle between the pacifier and the thumb, which one is the better option? And up to when is it okay for children to suck their thumbs before they need to kick the habit?
Thumbsucking vs. pacifiers
If you are raising one who has the habit of sucking their thumbs, you might be thinking if it’s better for them to get a pacifier instead. We’ll let you weigh in on that one, but allow us to provide you with the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Pros of Using Pacifiers
- It comforts your child.
- The pacifier can protect against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- You can control when your child is allowed to use the pacifier.
Cons of Using Pacifiers
- Pacifiers can be costly.
- Some pacifiers can contain harmful materials, such as Diisonyl phthalate, which has been linked to cancer.
- They can cause ear infections.
- They can disrupt breastfeeding and cause infants nipple confusion.
- It may be a difficult habit to break.
It’s important to note that experts advise against giving babies pacifiers, especially those 6 weeks below as it may lead to nipple confusion and create problems with breastfeeding. Click here for more information about pacifiers.
Effects of thumbsucking – the pros and cons
Benefits of thumbsucking
- It’s free.
- It is convenient and readily available to your child. Compared to the pacifier, your baby can easily find his thumb even in the dark.
- It enables them to soothe or comfort themselves.
- It may strengthen their immune system (at your own risk).
- It’s natural and free of any chemicals.
Negative effects of thumbsucking
- It can cause dental problems in your child if thumb sucking is not stopped by the age of four.
- If your child’s fingers aren’t kept clean, thumb sucking can cause germs to spread in his or her mouth.
- It may be difficult to wean off.
Meanwhile, paediatricians warn against thumbsucking because as mentioned, it increases the risk of children getting germs in their mouths, which can lead to viral or bacterial infections. The fact that they put everything in their mouth gives them a risk of getting bacteria there and they may get diarrhoea.
In this time of pandemic where going to the hospital is so scary and complicated, it’s best to avoid doing anything that puts our family at risk of getting sick. So it would really help if thumbsucking is curbed to prevent sickness.
A lot of parents think that allowing their child to suck his thumb or to use a pacifier will teach him to self-soothe. However, Dr Juan Luis Camara Singson, a paediatrician at the Awakenings Toward Natural Healing Clinic says that thumbsucking or giving the baby a pacifier is not really necessary.
“Self-soothing is an outdated principle, and current research has shown that babies simply cannot self-soothe. They instead learn not to expect any help when they are suffering, and this can be a very traumatizing and harmful thing,” he said.
The best way to bond and comfort your baby is for you to hold and nurture him. According to Dr Singson, deciding between using the pacifier or allowing your child to suck his thumb should not be an issue, and that neither should be made a substitute for holding your child.
When is it time to kick the habit?
So the answer to the question, “Is thumbsucking bad?” actually depends on your child’s age and what stage he is in his development.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), most children will stop thumb sucking on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. And even after age 4, doctors don’t recommend that parents aggressively try to stop the behaviour because putting too much pressure on your child can have the opposite effect.
However, the association also stresses that prolonged thumb sucking may cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and the alignment of teeth. It also can cause changes in the roof of the mouth.
If your child stops sucking his thumb or fingers before his permanent front teeth come in, there’s a good chance his bite will correct itself. However, if your child continues to suck their thumbs past the age of 4 and especially when his permanent teeth are starting to come in, the shape of his mouth or how his teeth are lining up might get affected.
So it’s better to help your child kick this nasty habit before his permanent teeth start to erupt. To learn about the timeline of baby teeth and permanent teeth, click here.
Tips to help your child stop thumb-sucking
Although most kids outgrow thumbsucking before they start school, some kids need a little more time and help to do so. Here are some things you can try to help your child kick the habit.
Talk to your child about it.
Sometimes, your child doesn’t even know that thumb-sucking is a habit that she needs to outgrow. Start a conversation about it. Ask your child why she does it, and if she’s even aware that she’s doing it. You can then explain why this is something she needs to stop. But remember to keep things light and don’t use negative words because they just achieve the opposite.
Seek the help of the media.
Let’s face it – the shows our kids watch are a big factor in how they act. They love imitating their favourite characters. So maybe check if there are episodes that talk about thumb-sucking and how the characters were able to kick the habit. If your child is fond of reading, there are a lot of children’s book titles that tackle thumb-sucking.
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Observe thumb-sucking patterns.
To curb this unwanted habit, you need to observe your child first. Is there a pattern when it comes to thumb-sucking? When does he always do this? Does he do it at bedtime? Or when he’s studying for a quiz?
Once you are aware of your child’s thumb-sucking patterns, you can focus on its cause and triggers. If you notice that your child does it to help him sleep, you can offer a cup of milk before brushing his teeth, or you can hold him for a bit to soothe him.
Some children suck their thumbs when they are feeling insecure, anxious or they are in need of comfort. Try to correct the cause of anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
Again, once you note the patterns, you’ll know what triggers your child’s thumb-sucking habit. Does he do it when he’s bored? Then keep those thumbs and fingers busy! You can give him a pop-it toy or a fun activity like colouring, a sensory bin, or play dough.
If your child likes to pretend play, you can use it to your advantage. Pretend that her favourite doll or stuffed animal wants to stop sucking his thumb. Ask your child if they can help him by setting a good example and offering suggestions.
Praise them for positive behaviour.
Positive reinforcements always help! You can praise and reward your child when she does not suck her thumb or use the pacifier. Just remember to focus on what she did and the effort she’s putting in than the prize to avoid meltdowns in the future.
Here’s another idea, don’t make a big deal out of it. Harsh words, teasing, shaming, or punishment may just upset your child and is not an effective way to get rid of habits.
If your child keeps forgetting to stop sucking his thumb, you may help him with a visual reminder. Try tying a bow or elastic band around their thumb (not too tight!) or putting a cute temporary tattoo or sticker on the back of their hand so they remember to stop before they even start.
Bring them to the dentist.
It’s time to call some backup! Schedule an appointment with your child’s dentist and let the pro explain to your child why she needs to stop sucking her thumb. Most paediatric dentists have fun, colourful, educational resources about oral health that they can use to help kids understand the topic better.
For this reason, it’s important that your child has a good relationship with his dentist and is not traumatized by the sight of a dental chair. So parents, stop painting the dentist as the “bad guy.”
Regardless of which method you try, make sure to explain to your child why it’s important to kick this habit. If all else fails, give the topic a rest. Most children usually outgrow it on their own anyway. If you have any questions about your child’s oral health, don’t hesitate to consult your child’s paediatrician or dentist.
This article was written by Janice Lim and republished with permission from theAsianparent Philippines.
Here at theAsianparent Singapore, it’s important for us to give information that is correct, significant, and timely. But this doesn’t serve as an alternative for medical advice or medical treatment. theAsianparent Singapore is not responsible for those that would choose to drink medicines based on information from our website. If you have any doubts, we recommend consulting your doctor for clearer information.