Thumb sucking: It’s a normal “problem.” A common “problem.” A dental problem, one which — when searched on Google — yields millions of results. Everyone wants to know the “truth about thumb sucking” and “how to break the habit.” They want to know what dangers do and do not exist. But I don’t. My daughter is eight and I’ve never searched for cessation tips or tricks, and the reason is two-fold: She is healthy and happy. Thumb-sucking brings her comfort when she is tired or scared. It brings her peace. It is also innocent. The act reminds me of a simpler time.
Of course, I know it’s odd. She starts third grade in a week, and her bedroom is a mishmash of things, of childhood and the pre-tween years. Her dollhouse is full of LOLs. Barbies mingle with the gals from Rainbow High, and her faux makeup kit sits beside a real one — full of blushes and shadows and glosses galore. But her thumb remains a constant. Clothes change, toys filter in and out, but her lovie — Giraffey — and thumb remain. The two go hand-in-hand. She only sucks her thumb while holding her “special toy.” She also only sucks it at night, or if she’s feeling particularly emotional. And I’m okay with it. Truly, I am. Because she could be finding comfort in other, more destructive ways, and sucking her thumb isn’t that serious.
Her doctor would (obviously) disagree; her pediatrician warned me years ago that prolonged thumb-sucking would affect her teeth — and it has. There is a substantial gap in the front, one which will require braces, and there are spaces in the back. Nothing major, just small, cosmetic tweaks. She also told me it could affect her speech, though thankfully that has not been the case. My daughter is stutter- and lisp-free. But even if she developed an impediment I would love her anyway. I also could, would, and will get her proper care. There’s an orthodontist in her future, that’s for sure. But I’m not going to fight the matter. I’m not going to push it, and I’m not going to yell at her. It’s not worth my energy or hers.
She will stop when she is ready.
Eventually, this habit — like all others — will break.
Ironically, I raised my daughter without pacifiers. I spent my pregnancy worried about things like nipple confusion and the damage the former could do. She was (for the most part) a breast-fed baby, raised pacifier- and (artificial) nipple-free. But one day my daughter found her fingers. She placed her left thumb in her mouth at nap time in an effort to self-soothe and it stayed there. For eight years.
“[I]t’s important to remember that thumb or finger sucking is a normal, natural way for a young child to comfort himself,” the American Academy of Pediatrics says on its website, Healthy Children. “[A child will] gradually give up both the transitional object and the sucking as he matures and finds other ways to cope with stress.”
“[What’s more,] while your child might still use sucking as a way of going to sleep or calming down when upset, this is usually done in private and is not harmful,” Healthy Children adds. “Putting too much pressure on your child to stop may cause more harm than good. Be assured your child will eventually stop the habit on her own.”
That’s right: the child will stop on their own.
Is my child too old to be sucking her thumb? Maybe. I mean, again, she is eight and going into third grade. She can prepare her own lunches and take state tests. But is there a timeline to childhood? Should we force our kids to grow up because society says they should? Because we believe they would be better off doing “adult-like” things? What’s the rush? Plus, if thumb-sucking brings her solace and peace, who am I to take that away from her? Life’s too hard, too harsh, too serious, and too grown-up, especially these days.
So please, if you see my daughter sucking her thumb, don’t shame her. Don’t blame her, and don’t mock her. Eventually, this habit will break. She won’t go off to college with her thumb in her mouth.