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It's a Habit

Sucking is a baby’s first instinct and is healthy and normal for babies to suck their thumbs and fingers, as it is linked to their need for food and exploration. The desire varies greatly from one baby to another and while one baby may have little interest in their thumb, another may have it permanently positioned in their mouth. Thumb sucking tends to decrease when a baby starts eating solid food, at around 6 moIt all starts when they are babiesnths and the need to suck generally lessens or stops around 12 months. Thumb sucking or the use of a dummy by a baby is usually little cause for concern for dental development up to this age. Up to 90% of infants suck their thumb and fingers without any adverse affects, and most will stop between the ages of 2 and 4 years. However, after the age of 2 years, thumb sucking can be a problem.

Around 30% of preschool children will continue. By this stage, a child will most likely continue to suck their thumbs out of habit.

Children will also continue because of:

• boredom or fatigue

• stress or worry

The habit is best broken before the permanent teeth appear in the mouth. However if the habit persists after the permanent teeth start to appear, the thumb or fingers may force the teeth and jaw out of alignment. This problem may then need correction.*1 

When does thumb sucking create problems?

Long-term thumb sucking can have a significant impact on a child's teeth and speech. The intensity and regularity of a child's thumb sucking will also determine the extent of the damage done.

The two most common results of prolonged thumb or finger sucking are:

• Malocclusion - Teeth may be pushed forward or out of position, such as an overbite, as the shape of the child's jaw will be altered from a U to a V shape;

• A lisp - Once teeth are pushed out of place, it becomes more difficult for the child to pronounce certain sounds.

Other potential problems include:Thumbs Out - Picture thanks to The Dental Council Of New Zealand

 Other potential problems include:

• reshaping of the jaw bone

• thumbs can become swollen, and sometimes infected.

In addition, some children may have difficulties with the growth of their palate, or the roof of the mouth. This in turn leads to problems with:

• chewing and swallowing

• placement of the tongue in speech.

There may also be a stigma for older children who suck their thumbs. Their peers may tease and humiliate them for being a "baby". This can impose on a child's social development, especially in the early days of school.*2

What are habits?

A habit is a pattern of behaviour that happens regularly until your child does it almost without thinking. If children repeat an action, like pulling at their hair over and over, it’s a habit. Often our children’s habits might bother or frustrate us, but usually it’s nothing to worry about.

Children’s habits usually involve touching or fiddling with some part of their face or body. Sometimes children are aware of their habits, and sometimes not. These can also occur concurrently. Some common habits in children are:

Thumbs Out helps with thumb sucking and hair twirling.• sucking a finger, thumb orThumbs Out helps nose pickers too! dummy

• biting nails or picking at the cuticle

• twirling and pulling hair

• picking their nose or sores

• picking at lips or the insides of their cheeks

• chewing objects such as pencils and clothing

• grinding teeth

 Why do habits start?

Habits can be comforting for kids. Sucking is a good example. As toddlers leave behind their baby stage, habits like thumb sucking can be a way of soothing stress or anxiety. But anxiety is not always the reason for children’s habits. Sometimes habits are brought on by boredom. That is, the behaviour can be a source of entertainment for the child. For example, one study of young nail-biters found that nail-biting was more common when children were watching TV or doing nothing than when they were feeling anxious.
Sometimes habits are behaviours that started for practical reasons, but continue when the practical reason has gone. For example, young children with colds often pick their noses to clear them. Children who continue to pick even after they have learned to blow their noses probably have a habit. You are a role model for your child. If you see your child starting a habit, perhaps ask yourself whether it’s one of your own habits. For example, some studies have suggested nail-biting can be passed on within a family.  

Be aware of behaviour that looks like a habit but might have a medical cause. For example, actions that come on suddenly – such as pulling or hitting an ear – and that are combined with irritability can indicate an ear infection or teething.    


Breaking habits

Most habits go away by themselves. But if your child’s habit is interfering with everyday activities, has become embarrassing, or is even causing some harm, you might want to take action. Take thumb sucking. Sucking the thumb or fingers is normal and common. But your child might be sucking thumbs all the time. If this is getting in the way of talking or eating, or your child is being teased by peers because of it, it could be time to break the habit.

Some tips for breaking habits:

• SThumbs Out - helps hair pullingometimes, focusing on a habit or drawing attention to it might make it worse. It all depends on how your child feels about (and reacts to) the attention.

• Try to encourage your child to do something else during idle times. For example, you could encourage your child to play with a toy that has moveable parts while watching television. Maybe try a hand game, like ‘Incy Wincy Spider’.

• Habits can come in pairs, such as sucking a thumb and pulling hair. When you stop the thumb sucking, the hair-pulling may also stop.

Praise will go a long way to stopping habits. For example, you can say, ‘That’s great, I can really hear your words clearly when your thumb isn't in your mouth’.


It may take several attempts

Children can easily drift back to their old habit and it may take several attempts before the habit is completely broken. Don't be disheartened. Be patient and know that the first few days without sucking are usually the worst.

If it's time to help your child give up the thumb sucking habit then Thumbs Out can help.



*1 http://www.health.qld.gov.au
*2 By Monica Davidson (http://www.ahm.com.au)
*3 http://raisingchildren.net.au