From birth, and even already in the womb, the baby sucks his thumb. This sucking reflex is therefore very soothing and helps regulate the sleep and relaxation cycles of young children.
By sucking fingers, sucking a pacifier or a cloth, it establishes an appropriate contact between the baby and the world around him. This habit can continue until the child's 2-3 years. If it is a stressed baby, who lacks confidence or is very spoiled, it could last much longer.
Does thumb sucking have specific functions?
It is an innate gesture. The fetus sucks its thumb from the 4th month of pregnancy, at specific times of the day: when it is tired, anxious ... or when you are angry!
This “in utero” sucking certainly has a training role intended to make your baby immediately “operational” at birth. Because it is imperative that it eat from the first days!
But, apart from this technical function, it is visible that sucking gives the child a great pleasure. This phase, known as the "oral stage" in development, is characterized by the predominant sense of the mouth and the satisfaction that the baby experiences in making it work.
Does sucking your thumb warp your teeth?
This is a question that is still widely debated and in which several factors come into play:
The thumb itself: if your baby just puts his thumb in the mouth, it will have little effect on his teeth. On the other hand, an “active” suction will cause deformations, because the thumb then presses on the teeth and the jaws.
The position of the tongue: it is very important, because when your baby sucks his thumb, it is in the low position. The force it exerts is therefore downward ... and risks throwing the teeth forward.
Breathing: thumb suckers breathe more often through the mouth than through the nose, which can cause problems with the growth of the upper jaw in the width direction.
Swallowing: Even when your child does not always have his thumb in his mouth, your child tends to put his tongue at the level of the teeth each time he swallows (this is called infant swallowing), which the long one, pushes the teeth from top to front and upwards and causes an incision of the incisors (the upper and lower incisors no longer touching each other).
Should we prevent a baby from sucking his thumb?
Surely not ! Over the months, the baby's sucking pleasure has become a need for your child. Suddenly banning it exposes your toddler to find a substitute: biting his nails, wiggling his hair…
How to help your child stop sucking his thumb
In most children, this abandonment will be fairly easy and will happen quite naturally. But if the little one is not able to stop this habit of childhood by himself, there are small tricks to help him make the decision:
- Explain to him that sucking his thumb is reserved for the little ones and that he is now a big one. With your support and his desire to be considered as a child and no longer as a baby, his motivation will be stronger;
- Choose the right time. No need to combine this test with a complicated period of his life (cleanliness, birth of a brother or sister, divorce, moving, entering school, etc.);
- Act gently and gradually. Allow the thumb only in the evening, then reduce to weekends only for example. Slowly and gently, the child will detach himself more easily from this habit;
- Never be critical. It is counterproductive to scold him or make fun of him if he fails. On the contrary, show him that it is nothing and that he will get there the next time and encourage him to communicate and explain why he felt the need to regain his thumb. Often linked to discomfort, the recovery of the thumb can be understood and verbalized so that it will not be automatic next time. Communicating to calm down, this is a fine axis of "deconditioning" of the child to help him abandon his mania;
Give him clear and achievable goals and create a game from this challenge. It is also essential to highlight his successes by a table, for example, which he will fill with each success and which will give rise to a small reward;
In the event of a difficult course to pass during a day, or a stroke of fatigue that would make him want to crack, offer him an activity that will mobilize his two hands and share this moment with him. By diverting his attention and appeasing him by the game, you will allow him to forget this desire for sucking which seemed essential to him. Offer him a hug or read him a story are also soothing solutions that will help the child to relax without feeling the need to suck his thumb.
Encouraging your child to stop sucking his thumb is a long-term job. You will have to be patient and understanding and accompany him every step of the way to get there. But, after all, isn't that, by definition, all parenting work?