Parenting

A swift end to thumb sucking

Tracy's seven-year-old no longer sucks her thumb. Here's why.

Photo: Sean_Warren/iStockphoto

I remember, when the moms in my moms’ group first noticed Anna sucking her thumb. “Oh, she found her thumb!” one exclaimed. “You’re so lucky.”

I did feel lucky. Then. If any baby needed a method of self-soothing, it was my Anna, and I was thrilled not to have to get up in the night to pop a soother back in her mouth or swaddle or rock her. Sleeping through the night soon followed and all was well.

Fast forward seven years. Anna still falls asleep without any fuss each night and sleeps through. And she’s still an avid thumb sucker.

Avery was also a thumb sucker. (I’m not sure how I did that, exactly.) They both got these lovely crocheted blankets from Grandma when they born and for Avery, the blanket was the only trigger. When she had it, she sucked her thumb. When she didn’t have it, she didn’t. So when she “lost” it, and we couldn’t find it, the thumb sucking disappeared. It was almost too good to be true.

But it’s been a different situation with Anna. She is also triggered by her blanket, but sucks her thumb without it as well. My dentist has been telling me since she was three to get her to stop because of the damage it’s doing to her teeth and mouth. But the hygienist would pull me aside and say, “Oh, give her time. She’s still young.” I sided with the hygienist. The thought of taking away Anna’s favourite way of comforting herself did not appeal to me whatsoever.

But I knew, eventually, that something would have to be done. And that it wouldn’t be easy. Friendly reminders and gentle techniques only aggravated her. She didn’t want help stopping, because she didn’t want to stop. At the same time, she was starting to feel self-conscious about it. And the dentist was reminding me that the sooner we got her to stop, the better.

Yesterday, we did. We went to the dentist and he cemented a retainer-type appliance in the roof of her mouth that would prevent her from getting the suction needed to suck her thumb. After lots of discussion, Anna had agreed to this. She told me she thought it was the only way she could stop.

I won’t go into all the gory details — let’s just say we were both in tears at the dentist’s office and, at one point, I thought about putting a stop to the whole thing — but it’s done. And though she’s having some trouble getting used to it (it makes her talk with a lisp and she’s figuring out how to eat with it in) I’m really proud of how well she’s bounced back from her initial traumatic response. I figured she’d be freaking out all day, but she’s been surprisingly calm and curious about it (maybe it’s because I let her have ice cream for dinner). It took her a while to get to sleep last night, which I expected, but there were no tears. I let her stay up late looking at books so she’d be really sleepy. I also let her stay home from school today, figuring she’d have a rough first night and that the speech issue would embarrass her. The dentist said the first two days are the hardest, and after that, she’ll feel much better and her speech should get back to normal.

The good thing about the appliance is that it works immediately. She cannot suck her thumb. They told me that we keep it in for several weeks and then when it comes off, the habit is broken. God willing, they’re right.

The decisions we have to make for our kids can be so hard! Hopefully this was the right one. Have you managed to help your child break a habit? Tweet me @T_Chappell.