Can we throw out the thumb?

That’s it!  At two years and three months, Master 2’s THUMB-SUCKING is about to see an end.  Well as quickly as we can stop it…!
You see in the last two days I’ve noticed a few changes to his face and speech that have made me pay attention:

  • he’s now developing on ‘open bite’ where his top front teeth don’t sit neatly in front of his lower teeth…  The top ones jut out in an arch, just slightly.
  • with his teeth closed, because of his front teeth sitting forward, the middle of his top lip is forced outwards, just slightly… But his appearance looks different.
  • tongue tip sounds such as /s/, /d/, /n/ sound slightly ‘dentalised’ (ie the tongue and jaw sit forward giving that ‘fuzzy’, lispy sound).

Being a speech pathologist I have seen these changes and want to reverse them as quickly as possible to avoid face shape changes, future dental issues and of course, the dreaded speech errors.  To have more of an idea of the issues that thumb- or dummy/pacifier-sucking can have, here is a post I wrote a while back on the effects of sucking, on speech development https://iraisemykids.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-future-of-a-little-sucker/.

Whilst it is good to have in mind the future issues with sucking a dummy/pacifier or their thumb, it can also be very difficult to put an end to this habit.  The potential trauma to a child must be kept in mind at all times.  When stopping the habit starts to affect the parent-child relationship, this is where it might be time to back off or slow the focus a little bit.  Giving it time might be all that you need. 

So, how do you stop the sucking habit?  Whilst I don’t have the answers, I know slow and steady is a good idea and keep in mind your child’s age.  The younger they are, the less you can expect of them.  Always keep in mind shame.  Without explaining why you are trying to end the thumb- or dummy-sucking, your child may be left feeling shame for wanting to continue with a self-calming strategy that they suddenly feel is ‘not allowed’.

Here is a little bit on our journey with Master 2.

Master 2 only sucks his thumb when he has his comforter monkey.  I am tucking it away in the day and whilst Mr2 has asked where it is, we have joked that he is at work and distract him by wondering what job he does and I list off options for Mr2.  He laughs with me so I know he is okay with the concept.  I give monkey back for sleep, so he still sees him twice a day.  When he wants monkey in the day, we will have a fun game of hide and seek and find monkey.  I am being careful not to hide monkey so much that Master 2 can only think about ‘not letting go of monkey’ and end up sucking his thumb more.  We have made the rule ‘no monkey in the car’ which Master 2 has gone along with, with the distraction of his music in the car.

We have talked about the thumb pushing his teeth out and how my aunt who is a dentist is going to check on his teeth soon to see how he is going with less thumb sucking.  He now asks me if he can suck his thumb before he goes to bed.  I let him, knowing it’s a compromise for less sucking in the day and that he will anyway.  We will keep the talk up about less thumb sucking and I give him other ideas of what to do when he holds monkey (stroking him, holding a second toy) with no pressure to take it on yet.  I am going with education early so hopefully he can make his decision to really quit as soon as he is ready.  We are lucky he doesn’t suck his thumb without monkey.
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Ps this is Master 2’s ‘big smile’. The best I could get of the wriggling boy!

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