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Monday, April 21, 2008

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

My preteen continually sucks her thumb when she is watching TV or trying to go to sleep. I've tried everything I know to get her to stop, but I can't seem to break this habit. What do I do?

Too old for the thumb

Dear Too Old,

Your daughter is likely indulging in her thumb sucking without actually being aware of what she is doing. You've likely already tried to constantly remind her not to suck her thumb, only to find that this tactic only builds resentment. Perhaps you have even tried those products that are made to create a bitter taste and deter thumb sucking only to find that your money was wasted.

You need to have a discussion with your child about this habit. Ask her how she feels about sucking her thumb. Find out if she is aware of the potential issues related to thumb sucking, including dental issues.

Ask her if she wants to break this habit. This is the most important part of your discussion. In order for any problem to be fixed, the person with the issue must recognize that there is a problem and must also be willing to invest the time and energy required to fix the problem.

If your daughter wants to break the habit, discuss all her options with her. There are gloves and other products available to make the thumb unavailable for sucking. There are products to make the thumb taste bad. You can easily search the Internet and find all these suggestions, so I'll provide you with a more practical approach.

First, create a code word with the help of your daughter. This code word is for you and other family members to use to draw her attention to sucking her thumb. You should avoid things like "stop that," "don't do that," or any other negative response. Try something creative like "thumbs up" or "thumper."

Second, offer incentives to sweeten the deal. Young girls love having their nails done. Offer weekly or bi-weekly trips to the nail salon for a manicure. Basic manicures are fairly inexpensive and having pretty nails will help motivate her to avoid sucking that thumb because she'll also suck off the nail polish. If the salon is out of your budget, then take her to the store and invest in all the necessary products. Let her choose a few favorite nail polishes. Then promise her weekly manicures given by yourself, complete with lotion and hand massage. For instructions on giving a hand massage, go here.

The most important thing for you to understand is that your child has to decide for herself to discontinue the habit. Sometimes we just have to overlook certain issues. Picking your battles comes in handy in this kind of situation. If you make a big deal out of little situation, then your child is likely to tune you out when the big situations arrive. This is probably not a battle that you want to pick.


Petula Wright said...

Out of my four children, I have two finger suckers. The baby sucks her thumb and the next one (who is 3) sucks her two middle fingers on one hand. My teenager does the pre-schoolers nails and it kept her from sucking her fingers for awhile the first time, but now it only lasts a few hours. She says she's going to stop, but she doesn't. I'm concerned that both of them will suck their fingers into adulthood (their dad sucked into his teens and a paternal cousin is still sucking her thumb in her 20s)... I hope they'll both decide like you say. I'll have to check out that resource.

BTW: Thanks for the response, encouragement and invite! No, I didn't know you live in GA... I'll have to think about it BUT I really really really appreciate you inviting me. Thanks again and we'll talk soon.

SoccerMom said...

Hi Mom

Thanks for the great advice! The code word and the manicures are great ideas and something I would not have though of. I am going to that resource also.

I hope you are feeling better and thanks for the post. I did not expect to see you until later in the week.

Take Care

Petula Wright said...

I'm posting an award for you so when you get a chance please come by and get it. Well, I'm actually still working on the post so give me a few... :-)

a nony mouse said...

Since Too Old is dealing with an older child "pre-teen" the following technique may be useful.

If the thumb-sucker is at least willing to try to stop, make a simple line drawing of a person sucking her thumb. Put the circle slash symbol over it. Make copies and put them up around the house where she will see them when brushing teeth, watching TV, doing homework and so on.

This is a technique that is commonly used by public speaker to deal with verbal tics ("you know").

It is non-abrasive and non-aggressive, so long as she is willing to go along with it. It is merely a simple reminder to not suck her thumb, and if the habit is mostly unconscious, as I suspect it is, this should help her stop in short order.

Mom said...

Thank you Nony Mouse. Mom loves you.