I remember being given a pacifier shortly after our little Bean was born and being told that he better like sucking said pacifier or else he will probably want to suck his thumb. Oh, the horror! Being a first-time mom, I, of course, listened to this sage old advice, only to despair when he kept spitting out the pacifier. After a lot of tries, he eventually took to it in short spurts and it did help soothe him to sleep at night, but soon enough the pacifier was discarded and the thumb found its way into my little boy’s mouth. At that stage, I was beyond caring what was soothing him, as long as something was soothing him, so I left it (in fact I fell in love with the image).
I have since spoken to his paediatrician and the clinic sisters about this ‘terribly bad’ habit and they have all assured me of the same fact: that it’s ok. In fact, it is perfectly normal and as the Dr said, ‘if it makes him sleep better at night, leave it’. Although some babies and toddlers continue to suck their thumb until they are about 4 years old, they generally let go of the habit on their own when they are ready. Contrary to old wives’ tales, sucking a thumb does not negatively affect the dental structure of the child before he or she is at least 6. So there really is no side effect, except the ‘tut-tuts’ and ‘tsk-tsks’ from the uninformed. And who cares about those anyway, right? As moms, we innately know what is best for our children.
According to “What to Expect – the toddler years” by Heidi Murkoff & Sharon Mazel, “At this age thumb and finger sucking are normal, and in moderation, not harmful, so there’s no need to ‘do something’ about them. In fact, parental pressure tends to increase and intensify the habit.”
Bean is now two-years-old and still very much depends on his thumb as a source of comfort. It soothes him when there is a lot of change, when he is tired, when he is contemplating one of life’s difficulties (don’t ask me which one, but I often find him standing and staring into the sunset, thumb in mouth) and when he is in a strange environment. It is his comforter, his ‘blankie’ or special cuddly toy (he never got attached to any of these, by the way, the thumb does it all), and I take comfort in the fact that he has something to soothe himself with which is so readily available. Besides, he is not bothered by what other people think of his self-soothing habits and he is too young to fall prey to needless adult pressure, causing pointless insecurities.
Although I do not encourage it in any way, I also do not discourage it. If Bean wants to suck his thumb, then he should be allowed to and I am ok with that. When he does not feel the need to do so anymore, I will ok with that too. As long as it is a decision he makes.