Thumb-sucking may seem cute and innocent, but it can create serious problems for toddlers who do not outgrow the habit.
If you spend any time around children, you are probably used to seeing tiny fingers in tiny mouths. Little ones who prefer their yummy thumbs over pacifiers or snacks can lead parents and childcare workers to ask, “Why do kids suck their thumbs?” You may be surprised to know that babies begin this habit before they are born. However, if they do not learn to leave their thumbs alone as they grow up, problems can occur. The following information explains this behavior and how you can stop thumb-sucking in toddlers.
What Causes Thumb-Sucking?
Child development experts view thumb-sucking as a way that kids calm themselves. When a baby is restless or upset, they may turn to their little thumbs for comfort. This is perfectly normal. It can be considered a problem if a child still sucks their thumb after 3 years of age.
What Are the Risks of Thumb-Sucking?
Thumb-sucking creates health risks. The most important is that thumb-sucking can cause dental malocclusion. This medical term simply means that a toddler’s teeth can be pushed out of place. If a child continues to suck their thumb until the age of four or five, the following issues can happen:
- • Upper front teeth can be pushed outward
- • Lower front teeth can be pushed inward
- • Front teeth may not come in
- • Top molars may not line up with lower molars
A child who sucks their thumb can also hurt their gums or fingers. Constant thumb-sucking can cause small cuts that then become infected. Fortunately, these health problems typically go away if you know how to convince a toddler to stop sucking their thumb.
Thumb-sucking can make a child into a target for bullying at daycare or school. If other kids make fun of this habit, it can cause anxiety and increase thumb-sucking. This teasing should be discouraged by teachers and discussed with parents.
How Can Thumb-Sucking Be Stopped?
Whether you are a parent or child caregiver, you must be supportive while helping a toddler stop thumb-sucking. You should avoid punishments, such as applying bitter or spicy foods to the thumb. Family psychologist Jenn Berman says this negative approach is like “pulling the rug out from under your child, and that’s not fair.” Instead, use the following tips to treating thumb-sucking in toddlers:
- • Explain why it is important to stop thumb-sucking.
- • Distract your child with another activity that keeps their hands busy.
- • Place an adhesive bandage with colorful cartoon characters on your child’s thumbs.
- • Set time limits for thumb-sucking, such as bedtime or storytime, and gradually lessen the time.
- • Offer fun rewards for progress, such as stickers, toys, or healthy treats.
- • Help your child avoid stressful situations that can trigger thumb-sucking.
- • Remain flexible, allowing your child to suck their thumb if they are upset.
- • Create a secret signal that reminds your child not to suck their thumb when in public.
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