Thumb Sucking in Young Children: Q& A with Dr. Michele Saysan

by Carla on September 15, 2009

Thumb sucking: Is it a true issue for young children? An interview with Dr. Michele Saysan, a Riley Hospital for Children pediatrician, answers questions about thumb sucking that are common among parents and licensed daycare providers.

Q: Is thumb sucking harmful for children?

A: Thumb sucking can be bad for children. Children who continue to suck their thumb may have dental problems.  Their teeth may be pushed outward or be poorly aligned which is called malocclusion.  The longer thumb sucking persists, the greater likelihood the child will need orthodontic treatment to fix the teeth.  Some children may have difficulty talking who have prolonged thumb sucking.  Some children may get skin infections of their thumb from thumb sucking.

Q: Are there any benefits to thumb sucking?

A: Thumb sucking helps babies soothe and comfort themselves when they are tired, scared, hungry, or even bored.

Q: How can I get my child to stop sucking his or her thumb?

A: After age 4-5 years old, it’s appropriate for parents to set limits about thumb sucking such when and where children are allowed to suck their thumb.

  • Show your child in a mirror what she looks like when she sucks her thumb.
  • Offer ways to distract your child during the day to keep his hands busy like doing crafts, drawing, coloring, or puzzles.
  • Praise your child for not sucking her thumb! Setting up a sticker chart or other reward system for not thumb-sucking can be beneficial.
  • Putting a bandage on the thumb can also help make the child stop sucking his thumb

Q: What about pacifiers? Are they harmful or beneficial and when should a child stop using a pacifier?

A: Pacifier use like thumb sucking also is beneficial helping babies soothe themselves.  Pacifier use has also been shown to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.   However, pacifier use is linked to an increase risk of ear infections and continued use can cause dental problems such as malocclusion which is seen with thumb sucking as well.

Q: What can parents do to help wean a child off of their pacifier once they become too old for it?

A: Initially limit the pacifier to naps, bedtime, and stressful situations.  Then limit the pacifier to only in bed.  Then get rid of it completely!  (This is usually the toughest step!!)  Parents need to be ready to put up with a struggle and a crying child for a few nights with this.  Usually a few nights is all it takes.  When parents start this, they should make sure they collect all the pacifiers around the house.  Sometimes kids hide them in toys and various places so parents shouldn’t be surprised if they find their child with a pacifier while playing later!

These tips should work well at home and at child daycare centers.

About Carla

Carla Snuggs has written 88 post in this blog.

Carla is a freelance writer from Southern California. She has a B.A. in early childhood education and a Master of Library and Information Science degree specializing in public librarianship and youth services.

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