You know what’s really great about having Doc G as one of our contributors? She’s a real doctor (and not just one of those “I play one on the Internet” kind of docs) who genuinely cares about people and what they are going through.
Doc G has a place on her website where you can ask her parenting and family questions, so I recently asked her a question and her answer and suggestions completely changed the way I was parenting about this issue. (WAY.)
Check it out:
I have a four, almost five year old, who sucks her thumb (since she was 16 weeks old). She had promised to stop on her 5th birthday (one month away), but now that it’s getting closer she doesn’t want to stop. How can we help her transition without the “conventional” methods (bitters on thumb, etc.)? –Jackie
Breaking a habit is hard!
Breaking a habit that is constantly available to you is even harder.
1. You have no control over this one. She isn’t going to stop until she decides to. If she agrees before she is ready, she will feel ashamed, but chances are she will still suck her thumb.
2. Only true internal motivation will make the difference. The promise of stickers, a toy, a trip, will seem like a great idea until she needs comfort that she feels only her thumb can provide.
3. Your reasons for wanting her to stop are not her reasons. Most parents want kids to give it up because we feel it is harmful either emotionally, socially or dental-ly. The social and dental issues may be real, but developmentally she can’t see those. She just wants you to be proud of her.
Wow. I have to tell you, number three really hit home with me, especially “she just wants you to be proud of her.”
This hit home because my daughter was starting to hide just so she could suck her thumb, so clearly she was ashamed … and that made me feel like crap. So? I shut up about it. When my daughter asked me when she had to stop (we were previously setting “milestones”) I told her that we would discuss it later and I left it at that. The relief was visible on her face.
My daughter is 5 1/2 and she’s still sucking her thumb, but not as much. Once I shut up about it (and stopped obsessing about it), it relieved some of her stress, too. Now she sucks her thumb when she’s upset–sometimes–and on occasion at night.
Doc G gives additional suggestions on her website about helping kids break habits like thumb sucking, so make sure you check it out.