Breaking the rule of thumb!
When I sat down to write this article about thumb sucking, I found it difficult to escape the intrusion of the sound of Maggie from the Simpsons sucking purposely on her dummy! Yet the sucking reflex in babies is, of course, natural and a survival instinct, there seems nothing out of the ordinary to see a baby or small child sucking their thumb. The problem is once a child continues to suck beyond that first year this action becomes a habit that can be difficult to break.
There is a misconception that thumb sucking is reflective of immaturity, when in fact it is mostly used as a comforting/self-soothing mechanism. This can be to deal with stressful environments, upset, lack of confidence, trauma and for some children who experience difficulty sleeping, thumb sucking can be used to trigger a deeper level of sleep. This, of course, creates a habit that unless interrupted and altered will become a vicious cycle.
Thumb sucking is an unconscious habit and most children don’t even realise they are doing it, they could be watching TV, sitting in class or lying in bed and without even realising it will be sucking their thumbs. Although most children stop by the time they reach five as they are about to start school and don’t want to be teased by school friends, not all do and this unconscious habit can cause a feeling of lack of control and low self-esteem if they are being taunted at school. As they get older, they do start to realise that it’s something they shouldn’t do, so it’s not unusual for older children to become secretive about the habit and hide it from friends… this, of course, can transfer into adulthood.
Risks of thumb sucking
Thumb Sucking can lead to both physical and social problems that include:
Dental issues can occur if your child continues sucking their thumb past the age of seven, affecting the position of their teeth (front teeth stick out and lower teeth are pushed in), the shape of the roof of mouth/palate and position of the tongue. The British Dental Association advises that prolonged thumb sucking can lead to your child needing corrective treatment such as wearing a brace or having teeth removed.
Speech problems are a direct result of the above dental risks and can impact your child’s speech resulting in lisping and imprecise pronunciation.
Peer teasing can lead to increased stress for your child if they are teased by peers for not only the action of sucking but also the secondary issues such as poor speech and crooked teeth.
Infection is common in children who suck hard on their thumbs and can lead to blisters/sores that become inflamed and need treatment.
Illness occurs more commonly in children that constantly put fingers in their mouth as they are likely to pick up more germs, viruses and be sick.
Thumb sucking, of course, isn’t just restricted to children, as society becomes more stressful and demanding more and more teenagers and adults are sucking their thumbs as a coping mechanism in life.
The best course of action to avoid long term exposure to the risks of thumb sucking is to remove the habit as soon as possible while your child is still young. There are a number of options available including thumb guards and painting their thumbnail with vinegar or some other edible bitter tasting substance. Importantly, thumb sucking doesn’t need to be a big deal but it can be turned into one if it’s approached in the wrong way and is made to feel like a central focus at home. That’s why hypnotherapy is a great option as it is a gentle and subtle technique in helping your child stop sucking their thumb. It can be highly effective in resolving emotional issues in children that may be creating the need for self-soothing and in as little as two or three sessions could help your child overcome the habit, increase their confidence and reduce stress from potential taunting at school.
So as the summer holidays roll to an end… if you have a child that is about to start school or is moving up into high school and they still suck their thumb, now would be a great time to help them break the rule of thumb!
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Biodun Ogunyemi ANLP,BNLP,SNLP,C.H,Dip.HypApril 18th, 2018