Sucking is a natural reflex that infants must have to survive. After their first few months of life, infants and young children may associate good feelings with sucking and develop a sucking habit: they will use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects to calm and comfort themselves and help them go to sleep.
Some children will suck infrequently and with little force. These children rarely have significant changes to their teeth or jaws. Other children are persistent suckers who suck forcefully and for many hours each day and night. These are the children most at risk of having protruding upper teeth and deformed upper jaw bones. Many of these children replace their sucking habit with a tongue thrust to fill the open space.
The majority of children give up their sucking habits by two or four years of age. Even the most vigorous sucking habits stop about the time children start school. Often peer pressure will convince them that they should stop.
The only way that pacifiers are better than fingers is that they are more easily taken away! Even so-called ‘orthodontic’ pacifiers will cause orthodontic problems. Discourage the use of pacifiers as much as possible after the age of two (when your child become more verbal.)
If your child is still sucking by the time the permanent teeth are erupting, you should begin addressing it in a supporting and loving way:
* Praise your child when they are not sucking rather than scolding them when they are sucking.
* Give them a time and place for the behavior. If they want to suck during the day, encourage them to go and have “quiet time” in their room for a few minutes. They won’t want to be away from you for long, and you are helping to set some limits without saying “stop.”
* Distract them when they start by giving them tasks to do with their hands; “hold this book and turn the pages; help Mommy empty the dryer, etc.”
If you have concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier, consult Dr. Hill or Dr. Stout. We can encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue.
Getting children to acknowledge that they want to quit their sucking habit is the first step in breaking it. Helping remind them of their own decision is better than nagging them about what you have decided for them.
Some techniques that have worked in the past include:
Some helpful books you may want to read with your child:
Harold’s Hideaway Thumb
by Harriet Sonnenschein, Jurg Obnzt (Illustrator), Jurg Obrist (Illustrator)
David Decides About Thumbsucking – A Story for Children, a Guide for Parents
by Susan P H.D. Heitler, Paula Singer (Photographer)