Parenting is a difficult job, and it is natural to worry about your child’s development and growth. Thumb sucking in children is one of the most common issues that parents face.
The good news is that thumb sucking is a natural reflex and is manageable with the right help. There are many tips and tools that a parent can use to break this habit. Let’s first establish where it all starts.
What causes children to suck their thumbs? Many parents have wondered about this issue over the years. Thumb sucking is a natural reflex influenced by both physiological and physical factors, according to our blog. Moreover, it can as well be a habit the child picks up as they grow.
2 Factors of thumb sucking
This article breaks down the causes of thumb sucking into two major factors explained below.
- Natural Reflex
It is critical that parents understand that thumb sucking during childhood is completely normal. However, this problem subsides as the child grows older. If the problem persists, there may be an underlying issue that the parents need to establish. Research provides several factors during the upbringing of the child that can influence such behaviors.
- Children who are bottle-fed instead of breastfed tend to suck their thumbs.
- Children fed on schedule rather than on cue have a higher likelihood of developing this habit.
Children weaned at a later stage in their lives have a lower chance of developing this habit. Breastfeeding is advisable to the parents as a big contributor to preventing the thumb-sucking habit.
2. Learned habit
As a child grows, the world changes from its norm to new environs, people, and places to explore. As a child navigates this new experience or surroundings, thumb sucking can continue to provide a sense of security and comfort.
Children may develop a desire to suck their thumbs before going to bed or when they need soothing to lull them to sleep.
Others believe sleep takes one back to their primitive ways, such as thumb sucking hence why children may pick up this habit in their sleep.
Why should you keep an eye on a child who sucks their thumb?
The short time concern may be the direct transfer of germs from the hands to the mouth. As a parent, you cannot take chances with the child’s hygiene as they have a very sensitive immune system.
The current pandemic doesn’t make it better, especially if the child has been playing outside. Always ensure that the child’s hands are clean at all times.
The long-term concern is that unmonitored thumb sucking can have lasting consequences for the child’s oral health. Thumb sucking can have an impact on the placement and development of the child’s teeth, as well as jaw development.
Moreover, speech and language experts have stated that thumb sucking can limit speech and language development. A child who sucks their thumb excessively may have a challenge in communication.
How long does it take for thumb sucking to stop?
Most children start sucking thumbs by themselves at the age of six or seven months. When the child stops thumb-sucking may differ from child to child; some stop at the age of two, but the majority stop at the age of four.
If the habit continues, it will probably stop at the age of six. Later than that, the parent ought to seek professional help for the child.
Nonetheless, even a child who has stopped sucking their thumb may revert to the habit in times of stress.
When should the parent get concerned?
Most times, thumb sucking doesn’t seem to be a major issue until the child’s permanent teeth appear. Sucking thumb may start to affect the palate or teeth line-up. The risk of dental problems increases with the intensity and frequency in which your child sucks their thumb.
The age of three is the recommendable age in which a parent should start training the child to keep the hands off the mouth. Allowing the habit to progress past this age can be difficult for the child to stop and may continue till the child’s permanent teeth start to develop.
Are there benefits of thumb sucking?
Thumb Sucking has a negative connotation in the present society. As a parent, you probably wonder if thumb sucking has any advantages and if they outweigh the drawbacks. Thumb sucking is a completely natural and intuitive behavior that causes no harm to the child at younger stages.
In fact, for the child, it gives them a sense of security, comfort and calmness. Some people consider this habit an early sign of intelligence or independence though it is not proven. However, the parent should intervene to curb this habit at a certain age, preferably age three.
Surprising as it may sound, thumb sucking has several benefits
- Emotional Comfort
The primary purpose of sucking thumb is to provide emotional comfort. The movement of the thumb in the mouth regulates the rhythm of the heartbeat and breathes when the child feels upset or tensed for soothing and relaxation.
- Sign of Independence
In a social experiment, children were placed in a separate room from their mothers for some time. Children who suck their thumbs tend to keep themselves entertained longer and wandered more around the room compared to their other peers. From this experiment, it was clear that thumb-sucking children are more independent than those who do not.
- Improved sleep
Better and long sleep periods are another health benefit of thumb sucking. These kids also tend to sleep longer hence guaranteeing the parents enough rest time.
- It gives parents peace of mind
One of the most underrated benefits of thumb sucking is the peace it brings to parents. When a child can soothe themselves, they give the parents relief and freedom to handle other things. The parents also have time to relax from a busy day as the child keeps themselves company.
- Immune Booster
According to a study, children who suck their thumb regularly have a lower risk of developing allergies later in life than those who do not. The reason for this is it increases pathogen and bacteria exposure. Even though we strive to get rid of germs, increased exposure is a good way to strengthen your immune system.
- Teething Relief
Another advantage of thumb sucking is that it allows the child to manage their pain and discomfort during the initial stages of teeth growth. Incoming teeth cause an itchy sensation, irritate the gums and are tender; thus, gnawing on their fingers relieves the discomfort and distracts the child from any pain.
- Aids Digestion
The child’s digestion and gut health are essential in developing the immune system and overall well-being. Thumb-sucking eases the process of peristalsis by contraction of the muscles, hence allowing food to pass through the digestive system. Moreover, it also stimulates saliva production, which is useful in the digestion process.
Is thumb sucking good or bad?
As stated, thumb sucking is a very natural behavior, and as much as it is harmful, it also has its advantages. It is important to weigh the pros and the cons as a parent to realize when you should come in to stop the habit. When the habit starts to harm the child, do not reprimand the child; rather, there are other alternative ways to help your child outgrow the behavior.