What to Do When Your Child Sucks Their Thumb
Any professional providing kids dentist services in Marion, Iowa will tell you that thumb sucking is a problematic habit for a child because it can cause severe damage to their dental health and make their teeth crooked. Thankfully, you can gently help your child get over this behavior in a way that not only makes them happier but which will improve their overall oral health in many ways.
Understand Why Your Child Sucks Their Thumb
Although many children temporarily suck their thumb when they are very young, more extended thumb-sucking behaviors are often a result of a variety of situations. For example, your child may suffer from stress and use their thumb as a way to vent. Others may like the way that the thumb feels in their mouth and use it as a self-soothing method. The reasons vary, but all children with this issue have triggers that will often cause them to fall into this pattern of behavior.
For example, you may notice that your child starts to suck their thumb whenever you put on a football game. This behavior may occur because they are worried about how you yell at the television or they find the sport boring. Or they may start sucking their thumb when they figure out that somebody is coming over whom they don’t like very much. Whatever the reasons, you need to identify these triggers and find a way to manage them in your child’s life.
Before you start, though, talk to your kids’ dentist about these triggers to get a better understanding of how to adjust them. Though a dentist is not a child’s psychologist, they do deal with this problem quite often and have a surprisingly powerful way of managing it. They can come up with a treatment method that may work for your child and which can adjust their behavior. Just a few of these options are outlined below to give you an idea of what to do in this scenario.
Reward Good Behavior
If your child is sucking their thumb and your kids dentist is worried, you need to avoid coming down hard on the child or being too hard on them for this behavior. That kind of action is more than likely going to trigger worsened thumb sucking because it will make the child nervous and harder to handle. Instead, you need to talk to them positive about reasons why they should stop sucking their thumb and set small goals that are easier for the child to achieve rather than quitting cold turkey.
Remember: thumb sucking is a lot like an addiction for some children, and they need some time to come down from it in a positive way. Others use thumb sucking as a coping mechanism for anxiety and yelling at them for this situation is only going to make it worse. Instead, make it fun in a way that your child will appreciate. For example, give them a goal to avoid thumb-sucking for an hour and to provide them with a small reward, such as a little treat, when they achieve this goal.
Make a small calendar that you can place in the child’s room on which you put a sticker for each day they don’t suck their thumb. If they get through a full week without this behavior, reward them with a pizza party or a new toy. This type of behavioral adjustment may seem similar to that which you use on a dog, and there is some comparison. However, all animals – whether human or otherwise – respond best to positive reinforcement, so steer your child with this simple method.
Soft Reminders Help Redirect Behavior
As you work with your kids dentist and your child on thumb sucking, you’re going to find that your son or daughter occasionally falls back into the habit. This situation is unavoidable and shouldn’t be treated as a failure. Instead, you need to redirect your child and use this moment as a learning method that can help them better understand themselves.
For example, if you see your child sucking their thumb, don’t yell at them or scold them for the action. Remind them that they are doing it and let them realize what is happening. Don’t punish them or behave in aggressive ways. Instead, ask the child why they started sucking their thumb to understand this behavior further.
Make sure that these behaviors never cross the line into scolding for the reasons already mentioned. Your child should feel comfortable adjusting their behavior in slight ways to ensure that they don’t fall back into thumb-sucking behaviors. Let them progress at their speed – all children will eventually give up this activity but may need more time than others.
What Not to Do
In the past, many parents probably utilized some pretty harsh methods for getting their child to quit sucking their thumbs. For example, some may have put pepper or other bitter substances on the child’s thumb to prevent sucking behaviors. Others may have put a bandage on the thumb to make it harder to suck or even a sock. These methods are too old-school and mean-spirited, and most kids dentist professionals will tell you to steer clear of these methods for a few reasons.
First of all, negative behavior adjustment often has an unfortunate tendency to make a child suck their thumb even more. Simply put, the pepper may deter them a little but may cause anxiety that will make their lives more difficult. As a result, they may try to suck their thumb even more to alleviate their nerves. This situation is one that many parents have found themselves in, and some don’t understand it and believe that the child is just trying to be complicated.
Even worse, some children may feel picked on by their parents in a way that makes it harder for them to trust their folks. For example, a child waking up in the night with a sock on their hand may be highly confused and unable to figure out who put it there. Once they figure out it was their parents, they may be further confused and unable to figure out why their parents would put a sock on their hand. This lack of trust can become a significant issue later in a child’s life.
Professional Help is Available
So if you’re worried that your child is sucking their thumb too much and you need help from the best kids dentist Marion, Iowa has to offer, please contact us at Horton Family Dental to learn more. Our experts have years of experience in this field and will give you and your child the best chance of overcoming this difficult and sometimes painful situation.