I took the kids to the dentist. The dentist had bad news: the thumbs have to come out. Malli has a visible open bite. Akka has one too, and now she has a crossbite. I’m told this isn’t just a matter of crooked teeth (which, to be frank, we’re expecting given their genes), it’s about jaw problems, pain, misalignment and all sorts of things that can be avoided by keeping thumbs out of mouths as adult teeth develop.

I’m not very receptive to anti-thumb-sucking talk. Let’s just say that my kids come by their thumb-sucking honestly. I was a bit of a tough case, in my day. My thumb stayed in. I remember holding my hands just so to keep my right thumb from getting dirty during its short escapades outside my mouth. My cousin C., four years younger, followed my lead and used me as an excuse. She used to say she’d quit when I did. I faithfully saw her through our teenage years. I am no longer a thumb-sucker but it’s hard to say exactly when the habit subsided. It still tastes good. Sorry, C., I really am finished sucking my thumb but don’t let that stop you. Power to the oral fixators!

My girl found her thumb when she was three months old:

And she didn’t let it go (although she switched hands – weird, right?):

My boy followed suit and became a dedicated thumb sucker in short order. Although with him, it goes hand-in-hand with hair twirling:

I was all for it. No soothers to lose and pick up off the floor and run back for when they’re forgotten. Thumbs are always with us! What could be better?

However, I also had all the orthodontic treatments imaginable and have suffered a gum graft which left tender spots on the roof of my mouth (two years on) and was an all-round unpleasant experience. I do see the advantages of avoiding these things. So Akka and I have had a few talks about our thumbs. I tell her I used to suck mine too. And that at some point I didn’t need it anymore (I don’t mention the specifics of that shockingly late ‘point’). She seems receptive to it. She tells me she’s trying to quit. She proudly tells me she didn’t suck her thumb at school. Malli is on board too. He loves the dentist and is eager to tell her that he’s quit next time we visit.

So this is our new project. They’re quitting. I’m supporting.

This is a parenting project in which I’m particularly invested. It is not very often the case that a parent remembers being in their kids’ place. With this, I vividly remember being in their shoes. I remember my parents and my older sister ‘helping’ me quit sucking my thumb. The program seemed to consist of them yelling “Leah! Thumb!” any time they saw it in my mouth (ie: all the time). It was imagined that I was collaborating with this project and would dutifully remove my thumb from my mouth, perhaps with a word of thanks to the elder who took time out of his/her busy schedule to remind me of my indiscretion. Not so. I was not a willing participant. I learned quickly to hide my thumbsucking, popping it out whenever one of them came into sight. I’m sure I hid it badly but I do know that I never, ever actually considered giving up my thumb. I never entertained the idea. All I knew was that my sister would grab my wrist and whisk my thumb out of my mouth whenever she saw me. When my mouth followed her hauling arm, she varied her approach by simultaneously slapping my forehead while pulling on my wrist causing my thumb to erupt from my mouth with a whiplashed pop!

I didn’t quit. They told me I could get my ears pierced when I turned 12. Then upped the ante saying I could get them pierced when I turned 12 and stopped sucking my thumb. Nothin’ doin’. A couple of months after my 12th birthday I got my ears pierced and went home to suck my thumb.

Guess which one is me:

So I’m starting a step earlier with my kids. First, they have to want to quit. Isn’t that supposed to be half the battle? They do. They both say they want to stop. We’ve agreed to try to quit sucking thumbs during the day. They need them at night and for now that’s fine.

The bad-tasting nail polish is out. I’ve heard too many stories of kids simply bearing the taste and sucking it off. But they do need some reminders so we googled “stop sucking thumb”, browsed some mail-order thumb covers and then simply cut up some old mismatched mittens and made these:

This morning they came downstairs, slipped them on, augmented the look with a sparkly ring each, and ate their breakfast. They’re trying hard. Twice today, they came to me saying they were tired and needed their thumbs and went to the couch or the bed to lie down for a ‘sum thuck’ (say that five times fast – no, don’t). The rule is they have to lie down to suck their thumbs. When they’re up and about, it stays out. I’ve promised them all the chewing gum they want while they get used to the new reality. I’m considering buying them these thumb puppets. I’m really really proud of them. It seems silly but they’re way ahead of where I was as a kid. They’re working on something that’s hard. Strong kids.


8 responses to “thumbsuckers

  1. Oh no, I ruined your little life! At least you have someone to blame for anything that ever goes wrong…

  2. I’m not blaming! I’m … observing. 🙂

  3. My thumb still fits perfectly in the roof of my mouth. I remember the joy of reading our benefits package at our uni to realize that as a house with two professors and separate benefit packages (no family integration option at our place), we had 100% orthodontics coverage. Phew!

    It sounds like your kids are doing great! And I love that they are trying together.

    It’s funny how kids all respond to motivations differently. Since it’s a family ‘team’ project, are there other additional things that might help them ‘earn’ something that leads to something being ‘built’ with each small success?

    For my kids, doing something involving making something out of all of the chewed gum would match their gross comedy (e.g. make a monster statue that grows from the gum they chew each day). It would surely be disgusting to keep around but that insurgence plus the chance to see it grow would keep them engaged.

    My parents paid me $1/day each day I didn’t suck my thumb for 50 days (this was in 1972) but I got the money at the end and I was allowed to spend it on whatever I wanted (hello Barbie Airline thing; wish they also taught the power of saving money too!!!).

    R’s grade 2 french immersion teacher gives the kids tickets for speaking in french. At the end of the week they can trade the tickets for stuff; but the tickets could be used for a big adventure or the chance to eat dessert first or other fun activities rather than stuff.

    Thanks for sharing this one. We have experimented with how to say ‘good bye’ to soothers and pull ups. I am waiting for the day when my kids turn the tables and make a plan for me to kick my terrible diet-coke at lunch habit 🙂 Maybe I too will get to build a gum monster?

  4. Brilliant strategies! But as a lifelong sucker I do know that it is a hugely comforting habit and not as unattractive as nose-picking, staring, bone-cracking, boozing, belching and sniffing. (all habits to which adults I know are addicted.) I wish I had stopped as a kid, and had had such family support. But it isn’t the end of the world if …

  5. As big thumb sucker myself, I used to swear to everyone that my thumb tasted like butterscotch. I think it still does……

  6. Did you try Thumbuddy To Love? you can google it or go to

    • Yes, we bought two – one for each of them. They sometimes help. They use them for short periods of time and then reject them and I have to find new ways to make them fun again. At night they refuse them altogether. It’s been a long and sometimes frustrating road!

  7. Pingback: thumbsuckers (still) | Chapter Four

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s