The first question I always ask is, how old is your child? Children learn to suck their thumb in utero and some will continue to suck their thumb to soothe themselves outside the womb as well. My own daughter did this and I have a sonogram video in utero and another video in her first day of life at the hospital, sucking away on her thumb! And…I thought it was SO cute! That said, she did not continue to suck her thumb until just recently and now it is a battle to keep the thumb and fingers out of her mouth (at almost 2 years of age)!
Infants do this to soothe themselves, adjust to the world, deal with little and big changes in their lives and at some point it becomes a habit.
So when must they STOP? The golden age for getting your child to stop thumb sucking is ASAP and at the latest by the age of 4.
If you have a child who still sucks their thumb and they are over the age of 4, this is not meant to point blame or create stress for you. This article is merely to inform you so you can make the best informed choices and help your child on the path to eliminating thumb sucking in a non-stressful way.
Myth #1: My child will stop sucking their thumb when they are ready.
Many children over 4 will avoid or hide their thumb sucking in public and around peers. Children often share this with me when we talk about it admitting that they are embarrassed. This tells us they are aware and have the ability to stop when they want to. We can use this in our favor. A child who WANTS to stop will have much quicker success as compared to a child who is not yet ready. That said, they still need the help of a professional or successful thumb sucking cessation program that is proven to work. The last thing we want to do is cause stress in your child’s life because they will pop that thumb right back in their mouth.
Myth #2: Thumb sucking, just like pacifiers or other objects constantly in my child’s mouth will not effect my child’s speech, feeding, oral development.
The thumb can do some real damage to the mouth. As an orofacial myologist and speech language pathologist, I have seen it in my clients as well as in the research; thumbs that are plugged into the mouth for long periods of time on and off throughout the day DO DAMAGE! They can lead to an anterior open bite, high vaulted palate (where an imprint of the thumb may actually exist in the palate). When the palate narrows, the shape of the dental arch (your teeth) start to narrow as well. This leaves little room for your tongue to sit in your palate and can effect speech AND swallowing. In fact, in many kids it causes a tongue thrust where the tongue constantly pushes forward against the back of the front teeth (instead of heading up to the palate) when swallowing. And we swallow quite a bit throughout the day (at least 1,000 times)! And if that were not enough, many children end up with Temporo mandibular joint problems (or as well all know it “TMJ” problems).
Myth #3: The damage is already done and the structure of the jaw cannot be changed. This is not true! If you can help your child connect with a team of professionals in the orofacial myology space, then your child will be in good hands. Most children who stop thumb sucking have an anterior bite that closes up (resembling a more appropriate bite) within 6 months of treatment. It is quite impressive what our bodies and our mouth can do when there isn’t something in the way (in this case…a constantly thrusting tongue).
If you have a child over 4 years of age who still sucks there thumb, it’s time to pick up the phone and call us.
Because every child’s case is different., Hallie welcomes the opportunity to discuss your child’s case via a free phone consultation. You can reach Hallie at 301-881-1394 and she will help you determine what the next steps may be for you and your child. I look forward to chatting with you!