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Dealing with thumb sucking addiction in children

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Thumb Sucking is a natural reflex and a common habit among children. It makes them feel happy, relaxed and secure. However, it is also common that whenever children are stressed, bored, tired or sleepy, they resort to sucking their thumbs.

Thumb-sucking can be a worrisome issue in many homes that have young children. Some parents wonder how they can help their children break this habit, while others feel the action is soothing and shouldn’t be stopped outrightly.

It is normal among newborn babies, and it is also for infants to soothe themselves. However, once your child is three years, it’s time to break the habit.

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Thumb-sucking is not purely an instinctive behaviour and therefore, can last much longer. Moreover, ultrasound scans have revealed that thumb-sucking can start before birth, as early as 15 weeks from conception. Whether this behaviour is voluntary or due to random movements of the fetus in the womb, is not conclusively known.

It generally stops by the age of four. Some older children could retain the habit, which could cause dental problems. While dentists would recommend breaking the habit as early as possible, it has been shown that the habit could break before the onset of permanent teeth, when the child is about five years old.

Hence, it is not advisable to wait too long to get a child out of this h abit, to avoid permanent changes to the jaw shape, bite, and teeth. Speech could also be affected, and many thumb-suckers sometimes need speech therapy.

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Parents should try and swiftly break their kids of the thumb-sucking habit. However, your child will stop when they are ready. The only bad thing about thumb-sucking is that your child could be allowing viruses and bacteria into his mouth.

Meanwhile, experts believe it is not necessarily a bad thing, as your child might be exposed to potential sickness and germs, but they also are getting an immunity booster and ultimately, a lower risk for allergies in the future.

If your child enters kindergarten and is still sucking his thumb, many parents feel they may be bullied or teased about this habit. Talk to your child. Explain that other kids might point out the thumb sucking, as children often point out actions they see as different or unusual. Don’t pressure your child to stop, but by talking to him about it, your child may stop on his own. In fact, studies have shown that peer pressure (other kids commenting on thumb-sucking) and not parents pressure, is often what makes kids finally kick this habit.

However, if you want to get your child to stop, these are some helpful ways:
• If your child is sucking his thumb out of boredom (or when he’s hungry or tired), keep his hands busy with games with a friend or give him toys to spin or balls to bounce.
• Praise and gentle reminders throughout the day are great positive re-enforcements.
• Awards can also be helpful. Create a chart and each time your child goes a full day or night without sucking thump, he gets a star. After five stars, he gets to pick out a new toy or have lunch at a favourite restaurant.

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