Helping Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking

thumbsuckingThumb and finger sucking is an instinctive, comforting way that babies relax and handle stress.  When it continues into the toddler and childhood years it can then become a habit, which can have devastating dental and social effects. Many parents have expressed frustration in helping their children overcome this habit and much research has been done on the subject.  Pediatric dentists and psychologists have worked together for new techniques and have developed a new process, which includes the child, parents and dentist.

When should the thumb sucking stop?

Toddlers will naturally stop as they age or after a parent continually removes the finger. Many children hang onto the habit as they would a favorite stuffed animal.  Studies show that any technique for stopping will probably not be successful unless the child wants to stop.

What are the new techniques?

Dr. Steven M. Adair, chairman of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia, has developed a new technique that involves wrapping a child’s elbow area from mid-forearm to mid-arm before the child goes to sleep. He has seen a success rate of about 60% achieved in children.

What is needed to begin the process?

Parents should purchase a 2- inch or 3-inch thick Ace Bandage and give it to the child to keep in their bedroom.  The child also will need a calendar covering about six weeks, adhesive stars, and colored pencils or crayons.

What is the child’s role?

Explain to your child that the bandage is theirs, and every night after they brush their teeth they are to bring it to you. The technique will only be effective if done without prompting, so refrain from reminding them! The bandage should then be wrapped snugly (but not too tightly) from the elbow to the forearm on the arm used for the habit.  The hand is not covered and the bandage should not impede blood flow.

Children will find they can still place the digit in the mouth.  As they tire, however, the elasticity of the bandage will bring the hand away from the mouth.  The next morning, the child should receive a star or check mark on the calendar for remembering the bandage and a second star the child believes he or she slept through the night without sucking the thumb.  The program should be continued for at least six weeks.

What is the parent’s role?

Parents should not discourage the sucking habits during the day or comment about it.  Instead, they should praise children whenever they are not sucking their thumb.  Parents can give children small rewards after 14 stars are earned during treatment. If parents believe the habit is broken, they should monitor the child for a week while falling asleep and again after the child has been asleep for a while.  If satisfied the habit has been broken, parents may bestow a final, bigger reward to positively reinforce the behavior.

What is the dentist’s role?

When the child expresses a wish to stop the thumb sucking, we will tell them about the program and call them them to ask how it is going.  A member of the dental staff will then call the child at a prearranged time weekly and ask the child how they feel it is going.  We will also provide positive reinforcement and encouragement.

If you have any other questions or concerns, please give us a call at 404-255-6782!

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