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The Rule of Thumb: Setting Boundaries for Thumb-sucking

Rule of Thumb

Phrase: The process of a child’s thumb ruling his or her existence.

Example: “What’s got her so distracted today?” “Probably just the rule of thumb.”

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If you’ve got a little one whose thumb appears to be a permanent facial feature, you’re dealing with a lovable little thumb-sucker. Thumb-sucking isn’t uncommon among infants, but as your child grows, it’s important to decide where to draw the line.

If you’ve been struggling with taming your child’s tiny thumb, this guide should help. But first, let’s get down to the basics.

The Logic Behind Thumb-Sucking

So, the question is, why do children enjoy sucking their thumbs so much? The answer’s simple. Babies are born with a natural sucking instinct and their fingers and toes make for excellent chew toys. The truth is, babies reflexively suck their fingers even inside the womb as a way to feel safe and secure. Often, the habit gets carried forward once a baby is born, and thumb-sucking actually serves as a soothing mechanism for a baby.

Must Read: How to keep your baby’s skin clean without using harsh chemicals

The Thumb-Sucking Phase

Thumb-sucking is often a phase that a child grows out of organically. This is typically anytime between the ages of 2 and 4. If you find that your child continues to favour the thumb past the 4-year mark, it’s likely that exposure to school and friends will automatically curb the habit. But hey, remember this: thumb-sucking is usually an anxiety-relieving tool that children use, and it’s essential to give your child creative outlets to effectively express that anxiety. Drawing, painting, talking and singing are some ways that you can channel your child’s energy away from the thumb.

Interventions to Thumb-Sucking

If you’re asking yourself whether you should cut into your child’s thumb-sucking, know this: thumb-sucking isn’t really a problem until your child’s permanent teeth make an appearance. Why? Well, because thumb-sucking can impede the alignment of new teeth by hampering the roof of the mouth. Even then, this is only likely to happen if your child’s thumb-sucking is forceful, rather than passive. If your child simply places the thumb inside the mouth without sucking aggressively, it’s likely that the alignment of the teeth will turn out just fine.

Vigorous thumb-sucking can lead to calluses and may be a cause for concern, particularly if your little one’s permanent teeth are on the way. If you’re plotting ways to end the rule of thumb, these tips should serve you well.

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Reward Your Child

Positive reinforcement is always the best route to take with your infant. Celebrate moments when your child isn’t thumb-sucking. Use rewards like gold stars or pretty stickers; you could even consider creating a game out of it. When praise is tangible, your child will feel encouraged to collect more. When your child hits milestones, say 10 or 20 stickers, you can complement these rewards with big-ticket items like a trip to the zoo or a visit to the ice cream parlour. Little things add up, and you’ll see a difference over time.

Dig Deeper

Often, thumb-sucking isn’t just thumb-sucking. It’s deeper rooted in a real problem; something that stems from stress or anxiety or worry. Delve into why your child is thumb-sucking by watching for triggers. Talk to your child about things that worry him or her and provide alternate sources of comfort, like a warm hug, a beanie baby or a wrap-around blanket.

Consider behavioural therapy if your child exhibits extreme anxiety.

Offer Subtle Clues

Infants are sensitive, so being mindful of their feelings is crucial. Avoid reprimanding or criticising your child in front of others; save conversations for when you’re alone and even then, be gentle. Offer subtle reminders as opposed to loud orders. A simple facial expression or a hand motion can serve as a wonderful way to express your point without making a public display.

Schedule a Chat With Your Dentist

Little ones always tend to pay heed to grown-ups in lab coats and you’ll probably have more luck than you do at home. Ask your dentist to explain the consequences of thumb-sucking to your child. You may even be advised a mouth guard or a thumb device for your child as a way to deter thumb-sucking.

There are countless theories out there about the best ways to curb thumb-sucking. You may even have chanced upon recommendations telling you to bandage your child’s thumb or to apply bitter foods like karela to the thumbnail. However, positive reinforcement is known to work better in the long run. Try the techniques mentioned here and let us know how they go. Be persistent, and you’ll likely end up beating the rule of thumb, all on your own.

Must Read: Common skin disorders that spread through daycare

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