Knowing a few facts might put you at ease if your child sucks his fingers or thumb or even his toe. The habit is usually temporary and quite common in normal children. Sucking is a pleasant experience. If, by chance, the child's finger or thumb goes into the mouth, he starts sucking it. The habit generally disappears by the time the child starts eating solids.
If you do not like your child sucking the thumb, start playing with him and gently take the thumb out form the mouth without making the child conscious of it. If you make an issue of it, especially between the age of 9 months and 3 years, when the child is passing through a phase of negativism, you are likely to worsen the situation.
Attend to any Emotional Factor
In some children, this habit may persist because of some emotional problem. Make sure that your child gets enough body contact from you. Breastfed children may also have this habit, though less often than artificially fed children.
Be extra careful about making a thumb-sucking child feel secure. Give attention when he needs it. However, you need not necessarily start feeling guilty if your child is sucking the thumb. Though emotional factors are to be kept in mind.
How to 'Break' the Habit
Gentle attempts to wean the child from the habit of thumb-sucking are preferable to aggressive ones.
It is true that if the habit continues when the child starts regular school, we should give extra attention to this problem. Forceful sucking can lead to ulceration of the thumb and wrong alignment of the teeth.
When your toddler continues to suck, tell that he is no longer a baby and he should now leave the habit. Pat the child when he stops it. If he does it again, give a gentle reminder. Most likely, he will stop sucking the thumb during the day and later on, he might also stop at night.
Putting bitter medicine or a leucoplast on the thumb does not help much. The child may then start sucking another finger. But discuss it with your child, if he is old enough to understand. If he feels that this remedy helps to remind him not to suck, you may try it.
Whatever you do, make sure that you do not punish the child and put him to shame in front of others. Do your part in providing a secure environment and discuss the problem with your doctor if the habit starts getting on your nerves.
Source: Book – Guide to Child Care by Dr R K Anand
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