For infants and toddlers, thumbsucking is a natural, beneficial form of self-soothing. Sucking is, after all, one of a newborn's first reflexes. But as kids mature, the detriments start outweighing the benefits. When does that "thumbs up" become a "thumbs down?" Here's what experts have to say about why, when, and how to stop thumbsucking.
About 70%-90% of infants suck their thumb to one degree or another (even, sometimes, in the womb!). It helps them feel secure and relaxed, especially at bedtime or in unfamiliar situations. Most kids voluntarily give up the habit between the ages of two and four.
But if kids are still sucking their thumbs when they're four or five years old, that's cause for some concern. At that point, the permanent teeth are preparing to erupt, and little thumbs can get in the way. Thumbsucking can interfere with proper dental development, causing crooked teeth, poor alignment, and even changes in the upper palate.
So how can you help your child stop thumbsucking? According to the American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, negative deterrents such as scolding or nagging do more harm than good.
Remember, often peer pressure provides sufficient motivation to break the habit, once a child is in school. Kids do eventually give up the thumb—some just need more help than others.
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