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Thumb sucking – a perfect imperfection?

Sucking – whether on dummies, breasts, bottle teats, thumbs, or other fingers – is a deep seated physical and emotional survival strategy. Unfortunately, the media and childcare advisors portray sucking as a character weakness, a bad habit, and a danger to dental development. However, there are a number of factors which need to be considered before deciding that Baby has a problem. Thumb sucking is one of the most natural behaviours to a small baby – he’ll often begin in the womb already! The feeling of the thumb against the palate just behind the top front teeth is very comforting – in fact, an ancient de-stress trick encourages putting your tongue behind your top front teeth to relax your facial muscles and achieve a state of calm. Persuading Baby to suck a dummy instead of his thumb can be tricky; especially if there’s a family history of thumb sucking. It can be argued that many adults still use comfort sucking; although they often replace thumbs and dummies with gum, food and cigarettes!

Comfort sucking only really becomes a problem when it becomes a habit or is used as a substitute because you aren’t meeting your little one’s need for comfort, human contact, and a sense of well-being. Over time, sucking may become less about providing comfort and turn into a habit instead. A good way to determine whether or not this is the case is to watch your child carefully and take note of what situations he tends to resort to thumb sucking in. If the sucking is a habit, he’ll probably turn to it when he’s bored or his hands are idle, instead of in times of stress or anxiety. Once you’ve identified the triggers, watch out for situations where thumb sucking usually occurs and quickly offer up a distraction which requires him to use both hands – without letting your tot know that you’re distracting him.

To deal with habitual thumb sucking right into toddlerhood effectively, use my five top tips:

1.       Spend time building your child’s self-esteem and teaching him other ways to achieve satisfaction or comfort

2.       Respect that sucking offers more than just food and that your little one has the right to want and get comfort

3.       Keep little hands busy to avoid boredom

4.       Don’t draw attention to the habit, this will cause stress which will make your tot want to suck even more

5.       Consult a dentist if thumb sucking persists – not because it can cause protruding teeth, but because your dentist can give your child a plate which will remove his desire to massage the top of his mouth with his thumb

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