A little girl sucking her thumb
Courtesy of Kimmie Fink
10 Reasons Why I Refuse To Tell My Kid To Stop Sucking Her Thumb
by Kimmie Fink

The fact that our now 3-year-old daughter still sucks her thumb is a point of contention between my husband and me. He's ready to try an intervention, whereas I'd prefer to let it run its course. We need to be on the same page, though, and it's a conversation we should have sooner rather than later. But the fact remains that, as her primary caregiver, the decision ultimately lies with me (because I would be the one to implement a change). For now, I refuse to tell my kid to stop sucking her thumb.

My daughter started sucking her thumb fairly early on. She'd accept a pacifier here and there, but she never really "took" to the binkie. She always preferred to suck on her hand and soon switched exclusively to her thumbs. As an infant, she would suck her thumb to comfort herself and to fall asleep. These days, she does it less when distressed and more when she's sitting quietly, like, for example, when she's in the car or during her nightly viewing of Sesame Street. A serious injury, whether to physical self or feelings, however, still warrants a thumb in the mouth.

At this point, I'm OK with her fixation. Sure, I'd rather she didn't do it, but I don't feel the need to address it just yet, and for the following reasons:

Because Her Pediatrician Isn't Concerned

According to my child's primary care provider, the decision to curb thumb-sucking is entirely up to the parents. In other words, it only needs to be addressed if it is a problem for us. His opinion is in line with that of his colleagues, as the American Academy of Pediatrics says it is only cause for concern after the age of 5.

Because It Provides Her Comfort

Sucking her thumb is my daughter's way of soothing herself. According to Dr. Sears, thumb-sucking by babies is actually a sign of emotional health as opposed to psychological disturbance. She's not an infant anymore, but at this point in her young life I'm not going to take away that particular security blanket when it is both a normal part of childhood and unlikely to have serious side effects.

Because Telling Her To Stop Isn't Effective

At a certain juncture in recent history, my husband decided to try scolding our daughter every time he caught her in "open mouth, insert thumb" mode. It did not go well. Reprimanding her only made her more upset, which led to, you guessed it, more thumb-sucking.

According to WebMD, applying a bitter-tasting solution or covering hands with mittens is just as anxiety-inducing, making the habit more attractive. If and when the time comes, I'll make use of positive methods like praise, encouraging self-awareness, and distraction.

Because Her Teeth Are Fine

According to the American Dental Association, thumb-sucking can cause problems with alignment of teeth and proper growth of the mouth once a child's permanent teeth have come in. Issues with baby teeth can occur if the child is a vigorous sucker (a callus on the thumb is a good indicator), which mine is not. Even then, dental problems tend to resolve themselves if the child quits by the age of 4.

Because Her Speech Development Is Normal

According to Famifi, children who spend a significant amount of time sucking on their fingers can have speech delays or impediments. Can is the operative word here. According to WebMD, thumb-sucking is generally considered harmless in terms of speech development. If my kid wasn't meeting her language milestones, I'd be worried, but that's not that case.

Because There's A Hidden Perk

A 2016 study found that children who sucked their thumbs were less likely to develop allergies. We tell them they don't want to let germs in their bodies, but exposure to those microbes can actually help build their immune systems. I'm not saying it's a reason to promote the habit, but as side effects go, it's not a bad one.

Because She Sleeps Through The Night

If you want your child to develop good sleeping habits, then self-soothing is a must. Thumb-sucking is a way of dealing with night wakings independently, which is a godsend for sleep-deprived parents. My kid has been sleeping through the night since she was 6-months-old, and I'm not about to upset that apple cart.

Because It's Not A Social Problem

My child is in preschool three days a week, and her teacher keeps her hands very busy. If she does suck her thumb on occasion, she doesn't get teased. If social stigma eventually becomes a problem, I expect that peer pressure will likely be a more effective deterrent than a nagging mother.

Because Most Kids Stop On Their Own

According to BabyCenter, most kids stop sucking their thumbs of their own volition, and often between the ages of 2 and 4. As they develop other coping mechanisms for boredom and frustration, they give it up. We're well within that window, so the way I see it, waiting it out is a totally legitimate approach.

Because I Don't Think It's That Big A Deal

When you have kids, you have to pick your battles. It was important to me that my child be potty-trained by 3, and I absolutely insist that she wear a helmet when riding her tricycle. But stopping thumb-sucking just isn't a hill I'm willing to die on at the moment. It's not hurting her, and it's certainly not hurting me, so for now I'll be letting it go.