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Habit of finger sucking


I heard this one about finger sucking. According to the story, this beautiful young woman made a huge relationship success by making it to the altar. The concern as her big day drew nearer was how to manage her for finger sucking. At the end, it was agreed that another person would stay by her side at the reception to forestall any embarrassment.

Naturally the bridesmaid was there, but the job of this person was to look out for when she would stick her thumb in her mouth and terminate it half-way before it got there. That was how it happened that it did not become one fall-out of a beautiful wedding. I heard it before the day itself because it added to the awaited excitement. So I believe it.

And in my humble contribution at the time, I told them that a person who chewed a finger from infancy, through secondary school, university, went through relationship courtship and going into a marriage should have stopped it long time ago by seeking medical intervention. I wondered about the groom too; did he think himself lucky to have found a rare gem that mauled her thumb? Did he want to suck his finger as a child? No matter how I wanted to look at it that she must be especially attractive in a way that is all hers, but I still could not imagine the state of the manicured fingers before the coat of paint.

Still, I have to admit she must have been unique because I, too, wanted to suck my finger at some point in time. I was nine years old. My friend and regular playmate was six years. But Joy, that is her name, was everybody’s darling. She had this habit of throwing her head to the side- if she sat- two fingers pushed into the mouth as she sucked furiously when she was upset, you would see one drop of tears on the corners of each eye or head bent as she walked and sucking at her thumb. Her gaze into a distance gave Joy a lost look that made you want to comfort her.

Apart from sucking her fingers, there was nothing else seemingly wrong. She was playful when it was time to play, bright at school. As the youngest of four children, the family tried to break the habit forcefully, but that made it worse.

But I liked it and found it fascinating and tried to copy her but I found no enjoyment or comfort from my hand. My hands were too busy; that might have been it. Apart from taking part in other chores at home, I had my turn of when I must wash the dishes for the whole week. I reasoned that I was too old in primary five! But my finger also felt like sawdust in my mouth. And nobody even noticed me and my new behaviour.

However, the day that I observed my little’s friend fingers- the thumb and fore-finger were the ones she attacked-I was filled with alarm at their whiteness and flat appearance. I became the one to snatch them out of her mouth.

The older ones said that she sucked her fingers because she was left behind too young when her parents went in search of greener pastures oversees, leaving her and her siblings with relatives. She wants her mother’s comforting arms around her, they said.

The white fingers alarmed me and this is why many parents complain about the habit. However, it should be said that children suck their fingers because of their need to suckle. But many stop the habit before they reach three years of age. But it is common among toddlers because they find it comforting and do it when they are anxious or feeling tired.

Don’t leave it to continue though, because, if not checked, it could lead to malformation of the permanent teeth. There are proofs of deformation of the denture as a result of children sucking on their fingers. Because the teeth rub against the thumb, blister and calluses can form and may cause infection. The jaw may change shape to accommodate the fingers as the child grows. Some children need the extra assurance or comfort. Take the case of Isaiah who breast-fed for so long although he ate anything on a plate. Their friends call it appetizer; I say, “comfort time,” “soothe me” and “reassure me.”

There is also the dummy, which a friend nearly had a fit with when it was suggested that she gave it to her daughter. “Don’t try it she will depend on it and may take to sucking her finger” was her pronouncement. And to make her daughter sleep through the night, she propped a bottle up for her.

I would always remember this child of about two who walked about alone wearing only shorts in their compound, feeding bottle clamped to the mouth, the teat completely chewed through. I never found out who took care of her during the day. But the white pap that was perennially in the bottle had no milk and although she was chubby, her hair grew on patches. She walked listlessly about until around seven o’clock when she went to the gate, that was the time her mother and other family members who were big time traders started to arrive in their numerous cars.

Children can find some comfort form all these, the mother’s breasts, a dummy and a bottle, but the bottle would have a nourishing content, otherwise it is of no benefit. If you use fruit juice, the sugar may attack the teeth and lead to decay because of the length of time the drink stays in the mouth. The breast is still the best soother for a child. But he cannot stay attached to it all day. When he looks for that extra comfort, he may suck his finger.

But as my friend pointed out, he could not take to school the breasts. You may, therefore, consider the use of a dummy if he has taken to sucking his finger. Some parents say that the dummy encourages the child to drop the habit faster. A research which compared finger sucking and the dummy, revealed that finger suckers indulge in the habit for much longer than dummy suckers. At the time of the study, 20 percent of finger suckers were still doing it at the age of six while any of those who ever used the dummy had stopped at five years. We will say, if you must use the dummy, do so at night.

At the end the most comfort a child wants in the first three years of life is a hug or cuddle from you, hold him/her as much as you can.

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Finger sucking
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