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Kirsty McCabe tackles 'thumb wars'

Kirsty McCabe, our weekly columnist, gives us her top tips to stop your child from sucking their thumb - tried and tested!

Posted: 6 June 2014
by Catherine Hudson

Time to stop sucking...

When my eldest son Ethan, 3, was a baby I was quite pleased he didn't take a dummy, as I wasn't a fan (by the time I had my second, Logan, now 1, I had changed my tune). Initially, it was a relief when Ethan found his thumb, and we could get some peace at bedtime or during long car journeys!

Three years later, and the thumb sucking was starting to become an issue. It wasn't so much about him using it to settle at night, but more the fact that he would shove a thumb into his mouth whenever he felt nervous, shy, upset or even just bored. His grandparents were starting to make noises about damaging his teeth and affecting his speech, so it was time to try and break the habit.

First up was praising and a wee bit of bribery and distraction. We kept asking him not to suck his thumb and gave him lots of praise when he didn't. Sadly, this did nothing as Ethan hates being the centre of attention. We tried to keep his hands busy to avoid thumb sucking opportunities. My husband and I would both grab one of Ethan's hands to hold when we were out walking. Or if he was on the buggy board I'd tell him to hold on with both hands as it was going to be bumpy (cue me pushing the buggy in a zig-zag fashion much to his and his brother's delight).

Nothing was stopping his pursuit of a good thumb suck. We tried painting his nails with the same stuff used to prevent people chewing or biting their nails. But he learnt quickly to wash it off and also to just lick his way through the nasty taste and get back to sucking his thumb.

I took him with me to the dentist and she was lovely. As well as explaining to him why he should stop sucking his thumb she suggested I get some thumb guards to break the habit. Feeling a bit doubtful that they would do anything I looked online at all the options. There are quite a few brands out there and a range of prices, some on the steep side but all vastly cheaper than huge dental bills in the future.

In the end we opted for using the thumb guard, Dr Thumb, and less than two weeks later it seems to have done the trick.The guard is made from soft plastic and fits over either thumb (we got one for each hand as Ethan would suck either). Apparently it works by breaking the vacuum created when sucking a thumb. Without that sucking sensation there is no pleasure anymore. No pleasure, no point = no more thumb sucking.

Well, that's the theory! Before they arrived I told Ethan he was getting thumb guards so he knew what was coming, and when we first put them on he was mollified by a few chocolate buttons. Although not keen at first he actually grew to like wearing them, especially the added traction they gave him when pulling apart Lego blocks.

I was told that the first bedtime would be the hardest, but it was actually in the middle of the night that I started to question what we'd done. Ethan had woken up, tried to put his thumb in his mouth and realised he had his guards on. So he howled and cried and complained and woke up the entire house and possibly all our neighbours. A similar situation occurred the following night but each time he resettled quicker and very soon he was sleeping through again.

We kept the guards on (except for meals and bathtime) for over a week, then tested him during the day to see how he'd cope. This testing started off accidentally when we forgot to put the guards back on before he went to nursery one day and he didn't suck his thumb once.

The real test came when he hurt his big toe and didn't put his thumb anywhere near his mouth for comfort. The habit was well and truly broken. That night we didn't put on his guards and there were no obvious signs or sounds of thumb sucking. We'll keep watching and if he does revert back to the thumb we'll put the guards back on but so far so good.

Now all I need to do is work out the best plan of action for weaning Ethan's little brother, Logan, off the dummy...

Have you taken on thumb wars, and been successful? Let us know by commenting and sharing your top tips below...

Kirsty McCabe writes her weekly column here on www.juniormagazine.co.uk. Follow us on Twitter: @juniormagazine and watch out for the hashtag #somethingfortheweekend every Friday to join in with the conversation

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