Thumb-sucking – Should You Be Concerned

Self-pacificationMoms and Dads! No need to get your nappies in knots! Your toddlers’ thumb-sucking days will soon be over.

Professionals specialising in the toddler phase have assured parents that thumb-sucking toddlers will all almost certainly grow out of this behaviour. They also insist that no permanent damage will emerge from this activity.

However, although harmless, thumb-sucking at any child’s age is not something to be encouraged. But at the same time moms and dads need to acknowledge that thumb-sucking in toddlers is a way young children pacify themselves. It is also a natural instinct for feeding. Unless your young one has been traumatised in any way, normal baby and toddler thumb-sucking is really not an issue warranting undue attention from parents.

Although most parents don’t question thumb-sucking in babies too much, it is when this habit continues into toddler age that parents do tend to voice concern.

-It simply doesn’t look right! you’ll often hear them say.

The pacifying technique of thumb-sucking our babies are born with can often be traced back to the foetus. Many ultrasound scans during pregnancy show the unborn child sucking his thumb from as young as 15 weeks in the womb!

When a baby enters this world his innate instinct is to suck anything in his mouth. Feeding is a calming and obviously fulfilling natural impulse so the sucking routine is largely instinct. Such intuitive behaviour causes absolutely no physical or emotional harm to the child at this early stage.


Too much, too long

But when thumb-sucking continues as children grow out of the toddler stage it can be a problem. Professionals in the field of dentistry agree that sucking a thumb, dummy or the like over the age of 5 years needs to be addressed in order to gently sway the child from this habit before it causes serious problems.

If a child is still sucking his thumb by the age of 5 or 6 years old this practice could be seriously harming the formation of their jaws and permanent teeth that are still developing in the jaw.

It is rare, though, that a young child will carry this habit through from baby and toddler stage unless the child has endured physical or emotional difficulties. True, too, is the advice from paediatricians that if you make a fuss about your toddler’s thumb-sucking tendencies you could be creating a rod for your back.


Using the power of distraction

For toddlers showing no signs of stopping thumb-sucking, professionals suggest the power of gentle distraction. Instead of making a mountain out of a mole hill, you can simply distract your little toddler by asking him something, chatting to him or providing a toy or even pointing out something in the room or whatever environment the two of you are in.

But if you notice he tends to suck on his thumb when he is afraid or angry, in fact if he shows distress in any form, then it is of the utmost importance that you seek professional help as there may well be an underlying, more serious, cause triggering this behaviour.


Busy little toddlers

As we all know, toddlers are busy little people, always on the go with never a minute to rest! These youngsters are touching everything and anything they can get their podgy little hands on, around and into.

Although thumb-sucking is not a big deal in most respects at this age of a young child’s life, parents and childminders should always keep in mind that germs are in abundance wherever we look. So with these guys touching everything within their reach, they are also picking up dirt and germs.

These germs and this dirt are anxious to live and breed on such busy little hands. But when these children put their thumbs in their mouths then this dirt is transferred directly into their mouths and then swallowed. Now of course we cannot afford to be neurotic about every spot of dirt and every almost invisible germ. We have to keep in mind that the human body is exceptionally resilient. But by being able to steer our toddlers away from sucking their thumbs we will be able to prevent them contracting many possible nasty reactions.

During this early time of a child’s life thumb-sucking is mostly a soothing action. Paediatric dentists believe that at this stage it is not necessarily a behavioural pattern to concern yourself with, especially at the baby stage and the toddler age. Just keep an eye on your toddler’s behaviour, distract him from the habit as best you can and you will probably find he will grow out of this thumb-sucking phase soon enough.


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