Four mistakes I made as the parent of the thumb sucker

Many people are curious as to what inspired me to start Thumbsucking Professionals. The answer? My own family. Yes, it’s true! My eldest daughter, Ananya, who is now about to finish high school (where does the time go?) was a thumb sucker many years ago.


No worries, I thought when she was young. I’m in the dental industry. When the time comes, I’ll be able to fix it. But after talking to all my workmates and dental and speech friends, one thing became crystal clear: nobody had any idea. So, off I went to consult Dr Google. Four sets of nail biting polish and two thumb guards later, I was eventually out of ideas. Meanwhile, Ananya continued to suck her thumb quite happily (and at times, unhappily, especially when we were putting pressure on her to stop). I was slowly giving up hope. What had started as a cute little habit was now impacting our family and relationship. I was frustrated all the time and little Ananya was ashamed and unhappy because she had no idea how to stop her sucking. (Between the two of us, I’m sure we certainly made excellent company for my husband….)


After years of me stressing and worrying over her thumb sucking, she finally stopped on the very day she turned five (I certainly felt like celebrating with a few wines). We continued on to do a little program that, in turn, became my inspiration for Thumbsucking Professionals, and has since gone on to help hundreds of kids break up with their thumb (and help parents keep their sanity in check throughout the process).


Honestly? I wish I hadn’t worried so much in those early years. The worrying can be debilitating and, as parents, we already have enough on our shoulders. So, to hopefully save you some of the unnecessary emotional distress I went through, here are four mistakes I made as the parent of a thumb sucker (hindsight certainly is a wonderful thing).


  • Putting too much pressure on her when she was little.


As you can tell, I was worried about the oral damage that could result from her thumb sucking, and because of this, I put a lot of pressure on her to stop. I learnt the hard way that pressure and frustration never works. It only draws the battle lines and puts a strain on your relationship. Instead, it’s crucial to work towards creating a supportive environment for your child and showering them with love and encouragement to help them stop their habit.


  • Using “hand cages” (thumb guards) that locked her hand in place.


Boy oh boy was this a mistake. We tried several different products from the internet, including thumb guards, which “caged” her hand. And guess what? She hated it. (What a surprise). She always found ways around them (sneaking her thumb through the barrier was her favourite party trick). Most importantly though, she wasn’t involved in the process. Using the thumb guards was something I was pushing her to do and instead I should have waited until she was old enough to understand WHY she needed to stop sucking before trying this technique (the same goes with bitter nail polish). Waiting until your child is old enough to understand why they need to quit their sucking habit is of particular importance because you want their cooperation. Without it, life is really difficult and many of the strategies can be ineffective. The thumb guards we used also didn’t encourage her tongue on the roof of her mouth, which meant there was nothing to “replace” her sucking habit once her thumb was caged. So, what are some alternatives? Fidget toys and specialised books offer great support and encouragement when it comes to breaking the habit plus they are super fun for kids.


  • Not thinking about her mouth, tongue and face muscles.


Thumb sucking uses the muscles of facial expression, so children who keep sucking after infancy develop patterns of dysfunction of these muscles. When it comes to important learning milestones such as eating, chewing and swallowing, children should be using the throat and chewing muscles. However, thumb suckers often use the muscles of facial expression for these activities instead. I was so focused on her teeth and neglected to realise that even if we got her to stop the habit, it didn’t automatically mean her face muscles would function correctly.


  • Failing to understand her overall health and wellbeing.


Thumb sucking is often a symptom of a larger underlying issue, which the sucking habit is usually working to hide from us parents. I failed to take into consideration why she might be sucking her thumb. What else was happening in her little body? Why was she constantly sucking when she was upset and tired? Identifying when and where the habit is most prominent is the key to unlocking and determining what the underlying issue could be. 


Little did I know that this was only the beginning of my journey as the parent of a thumb sucker. A journey that, little did I know, would continue many years later quite seriously with my youngest daughter Faith. No matter how difficult it feels at this present moment, I hope that by sharing my experience, you’ll see that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel and know you are never alone. As always, I advise you to keep an eye on the habit as they continue to grow, but in those earlier years, try not to let the worry consume you (easier said than done, I know!)

Want to know more about when you should be worried?

Be sure to click here to read my top tips on when you should be worried about your child’s sucking habits which will give you an overview of sucking milestones and what age you should start to seek help.

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