Thumb Sucking

thumb and finger sucking is a habit that starts in the womb. For these kids, their whole brain structure is wired to be at peace when those fingers are in the mouth.

Baby sucking on fingersLate night comedian Stephen Colbert, on The Colbert Report, has had a segment on his show called ThreatDown in which he highlights the latest list of things all Americans should fear. Of course what makes Stephen so funny is that he treats as serious things which may be ridiculous, but which are actually treated as serious by the rest of our society – if that makes sense.

With the tremendous advances in technology, parents are now inundated with information about all the things can threaten the well-being of our children. The difficult part is that most of these threats are real. There are in fact a huge multitude of things in this world which can threaten the well-being of our children, but it is important to realize that this is the way the world was meant to be. From the dawn of time the world has been both wonderful and threatening. To keep your sanity as a parent, you need to pick and choose carefully what to worry about and what to just let go.

The truth of the matter is that in some cases, excessive thumb and finger sucking by children can possibly lead to some dental problems when they get older. Two of my four children where avid thumb and finger suckers growing up and for some time, we worried about the huge orthodontist bills we might face down the road and so with the first of the two, we decided to do something about it.

After months, and then years, of fighting this scourge, I’ve gotten a little philosophical on the subject.

I believe that thumb and finger sucking is a habit that starts in the womb. For these kids, their whole brain structure is wired to be at peace when those fingers are in the mouth. Most of us have some form of comfort food that we seek out when we are feeling down: for some it may be tea and biscuits enjoyed on a quiet window seat as the sun streams across us, warming our skin. For others, it may be a thanksgiving meal, shared with our closest loved ones. For finger-sucking children, this same sense of comfort is provided by those fingers. As they sit or lay there with the fingers in the mouth, a gentle flow of serotonin ebbs and flows through their veins and they just know that life is now good.

Trying to take this away from them is about as easy as taking crack away from a crack addict. For infants, they won’t understand what is wrong, but they will just know that the world has turned evil. As they grow into toddlers, they will start to see you as the source of this evil.

For several years, I was this source of all that was evil in the world for my daughter as I tried about everything I could think of to to get her to stop with the thumb. Over time, she learned how to deal with this evil (aka me) and how to take whatever it was that I had to give. She learned to defiantly lick the hot-sauce from her thumb, she learned to suck through the sock we placed on her hand at night. In short, she learned how to survive despite these cruelties we inflicted upon her.

You can never really know true cause and effect in the lives of children – there are so many variables that factor into their lives. This first child became my strong-willed child who has taught me so much about what it means to be a parent. I cannot help but think that learning to deal with her parents and how to overcome our attempts to stop the finger sucking helped shape this fierce sense of independence.

So my advice now to parents dealing with the fingers in the mouth is that if you are looking to raise a fiercely independent toddler who is strong-willed and which will teach you more about patience then you ever want to know, then go ahead and try to stop them.

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