Parent’s reactions vary when their child starts sucking his thumb. Some feel strongly that it’s good for him to fulfill his own needs this way, while others feel just as strongly that it’s not. Because of the differing opinions, parents are sometimes unsure about what to do.
Babies begin sucking their thumbs for the same reasons they use pacifiers and frequent nursing or bottle drinking, to satisfy their sucking needs. The thumb is always there and so the child is always in control, which is not the case with the pacifier, breast, or bottle. And a baby who sucks his thumb may be less dependent on his parents to calm and soothe him since, with his thumb, he’s able at times to comfort himself.
There are pediatricians who advocate thumb-sucking and even encourage new parents to help their baby get started on the habit as a natural and easy way for him to satisfy himself. Other doctors say that a baby who’s given the breast or bottle on demand will already have his sucking needs met and will not need or desire his thumb. Of course, some pediatricians (and dentists) are against thumb-sucking, believing it’s an unnecessary habit that may harm a child’s teeth, especially if thumb-sucking continues beyond age four or five.
Just as pediatricians offer various opinions, parents, too, have different feelings about thumb-sucking. Many are unconcerned but do feel bothered by negative comments they hear from others. Friends, relatives, and even strangers will criticize a child for thumb sucking and try to pressure his parents to stop him. For many families, this is the only problem connected with the habit.
In other families, thumb-sucking is looked on with ambivalence. Parents worry about their child’s teeth, about how long he’ll continue, about how he’ll finally give it up, and about whether they should try to make him stop. And there are parents who don’t want their child to suck his thumb at all and wonder about how to stop him right away.
If you notice this habit during the early months, try to feed more frequently, which may satisfy your baby’s sucking needs. Otherwise, simply accept thumb-sucking as a natural habit. Trying to force your child to quit can have negative consequences and is usually unsuccessful because a thumb, unlike a pacifier, can’t be taken away. If you pull your child’s thumb out of his mouth, he’ll most likely suck his thumb again as soon as he can.
Since sucking provides comfort, the more pressure you put on your child to stop, the more attached and dependent on his thumb he may become. Fearing ridicule and feeling vulnerable, your child may depend more and more on his thumb for comfort. Be patient and try not to discourage your child from thumb-sucking, at least through his preschool years.