When M was maybe four months old, she spit out her soother, stuck her thumb in her mouth, and left it there for over a good three years. I exaggerate, a little bit, but she was a thumb-sucker for a long, long time.

It was kind of nice when it first started. We had a hard time getting her to even take the soother, probably because of her tongue tie that wasn’t discovered right away. Then when she took it she’d spit it out and cry for it constantly. When she found her thumb we were thrilled that we didn’t have to keep getting up to put a soother in her mouth at night. Over time it became a comfort for her, though it was one we didn’t worry about too much because it seemed age and development appropriate.

When she started at her second daycare around age two, one of the early childhood educators asked me about the habit, not out of judgment, but because they wanted to try bringing M’s attention to the fact that she was thumb-sucking; to them, it seemed like she was doing it without even realizing, and they wanted to see if getting her to notice it would help tone it down a bit.

We were okay with that, because in a daycare environment she was ingesting who knows what germs, and was to the point where she would favour one hand over the other because her “sucky thumb” (as she called it) was in use. That got us to the point where, if you said, “M, you’re sucking your thumb!” she’d laugh, pop it out of her mouth, and pop it right back in.

When A was born, we were using hand sanitizer a lot because it was November/December, we had visitors, and M was still in daycare. That inadvertently curbed the thumb-sucking a bit solely because her hand tasted yucky! It only worked until she figured out what was happening and then she refused to let us sanitize her hands.


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At a dental appointment a few months after that, the dental hygienist asked M to work on stopping the habit so that she wouldn’t hurt her teeth, and she took it seriously but still struggled with regulating it on her own. It was actually getting to the point where I started to feel a bit momma bear defensive of her because people were telling her things like her thumb would fall off, or pulling her thumb out of her mouth, or otherwise criticizing her over something that, I had repeatedly read, was still developmentally appropriate up until age five at the latest.

I talked about it with her to explain why it would be good for her to stop, eventually. We wanted to protect her teeth. We wanted to avoid germs. We wanted her hand to feel better — because the skin and the nail were soft and she’d sometimes get rashes from her hand always being exposed to saliva.

This was around age 3 to 3.5, and she was mostly just sucking her thumb at night, or when she was tired or zoned out. It had already dialed down just through her not relying on it as a crutch so much. Still, she wouldn’t let us hold her preferred thumb sucking hand, she refused to wear mittens or gloves because she hated not having access to her thumb, and her skin was peeling.

I asked her if she’d stop sucking her thumb before kindergarten and she said yes. It was a completely arbitrary deadline I made up, and I didn’t really think she’d abide by it, but I was hoping to gently apply a bit of ‘be a big kid’ pressure, albeit very low-stakes. I knew she wouldn’t let us use nail polish or anything like that — we tried bribing her with Piggy Paint and she would hide her thumb — so it would have to be something she’d handle on her own. My mother in law suggested we talk about it as a given, rather than a maybe: “M will stop sucking her thumb when she starts kindergarten.”

When she did start kindergarten I had completely forgotten about it. And then, about a week ago, I poked my head in on her while she was already asleep for the night and suddenly realized I hadn’t seen her sucking her thumb in ages. I came out and announced to Mac Daddy, “She really did stop sucking her thumb when she started kindergarten!”

A lot of what I read about thumb-sucking said that kids just drop the habit on their own before age five, and I wish I had believed that, and advocated better for M in the face of all the other grown-ups who were harassing her about it. Because really, she set a goal, and she stuck to it, and it just quietly happened on its own, without threats or fear or any of the other tactics people were trying to push onto us, and her.

The next morning when she woke up I told her I’d noticed that she stopped sucking her thumb, exactly when she said she was going to, and I praised her and thanked her for following through. She was really proud of herself!

To parents of thumb-suckers out there, I’d suggest considering your own child’s development and where they’re at, and what you think is appropriate. People seem to be really weird and vocal about thumb sucking, but giving your kid a chance to handle it on their own could be beneficial for your child and for you.