thumbsuckers (still)

It has been more than two years since I wrote about my children’s voracious thumbsucking habit. I’m sorry to report that their enthusiasm for their thumbs is no less voracious today. Or am I? Therein lies my latest parenting dilemma.

They tried to quit. Then they stopped trying. The little thumb puppets were thrown from the bed. The sleek thumb-mittens were stretched out of shape after being repeatedly yanked out of the way of a needy mouth. Every few months I’d bring it up again and we’d try a new regime of sticker-rewards or check marks for each recess or dinner hour spent thumbless. Check marks could be collected and exchanged for gum or erasers or a pack of pipe cleaners. They built thumb-sandwiches out of tongue depressors and medical tape. Then they wrapped themselves up only to cry out ten minutes later to be set free.

It was all crap. None of it worked. Not even a little bit. It turns out they didn’t really want to quit – I wanted them to. I loved seeing their little faces without a fist in the way. I hated the idea that they’re making their jaws grow askew or setting themselves up for all sorts of invasive orthodontic treatment. I also hated how disappointed I’d be when each quitting method failed.

So we went to see an orthodontist. And he said it’s no big deal. He did say their jaws are messed up. Cross-bite, open-bite, they’ve got it all. But he didn’t seem to think the thumbs were making these conditions worse or that pushing them to quit would do much good. He also said they’ll quit when we start putting stuff in their mouths to correct those bite problems. The dentist, however, says that stopping the thumbs now while they’re still growing will prevent their bites from getting worse. So which one is right? And whose advice do I follow?

Will we cement bars across the roof of their mouths to prevent the thumb from fitting in? Don’t look shocked – I was this close to doing it. But can I handle the anguish and stress they’ll feel if their source of comfort is so blatantly blocked? Oops – I mean – can they?

I have no idea. Today we went to our regular dentist appointment. Akka has four cavities. Malli has two. We had to book three more appointments to get those fixed. The dentist is cool with not putting the anti-thumbsucking-bars in for now but she says that if I talk to ten different orthodontists I’ll get ten different answers. Upon hearing that my first thought was who has the time for more appointments!?

So, I remain uncertain. And they remain thumbsucking. And maybe that’s fine. I need to stop thinking about it for a while. I’ve decided to focus instead on the one small triumph I managed today: I found a tube of raspberry cupcake lip balm after it had been through the washing machine but – and this part is crucial – before it went in the dryer.

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6 responses to “thumbsuckers (still)

  1. When I was a kid I was a thumbsucker. My parents decided to pay me $1/day (this was in 1973) for 50 days if I would stop but I could only collect at the very end and if I slipped up it was back to zero. The money thing worked and I stopped. I got my $50 and was allowed to do whatever I wanted with it. So off I went to “The Toy Shop” in the Kingston Shopping Centre (right beside “The Book Shop” – gotta love places small enough to use a definite article for the only shop in town!) and I blew it all on a Barbie United Airlines Airplane set and some other crap.

    But as a parent now I look back and think “I wish they had made me save some of that money” and I wonder about a missed opportunity to learn how to manage my own behaviour without needing a financial incentive. My parents I think were frantic to find a solution and this one worked – this headspace is one I can relate to. But I still needed braces anyway.

    Fast forward to our kids. R. was a rabid breast-feeder. That kid wanted to nurse ALL the time to the point where I just stopped for a bit taking off the nursing pill I had velcroed to me. Weird days in hindsight! I weaned her at 3 when I was 5 months pregnant with her sister. And I did it by buggering off to Portland OR for a conference – there’s one for the therapy jar. Her sister – même chose. Orally-fixated too. Both kids loved to nurse. Both kids loved soothers. Neither kid really sucked their thumb but their soother thing was just a BPA laiden substitute from where I sit. For both of our kids the “Soother Fairy” came at a time when the kids were prepared to choose to trade their soothers for something fun – in our case it was scooters. That’s the advantage of a soother over a thumb! The “choice” part was key for us but we still bribed them. I joke with my parents that the scooters at least promote low-carbon active transportation…

    When R. was little she had a massive head and she wasn’t the fastest baby to hold her head up on her own. At a doctors appointment when she was probably 2 months old I remember asking my doctor about it. She’s the same age-ish as me and also has 2 daughters. She looked at me very seriously and said “I can just see here now at the age of 20. She’ll be the only one whose head flops around like this [imitates R]”. Her comedic and not-so-gentle reminder that most of this kid stuff we worry will resolve itself eventually has stuck with me.

    My kids’ oral fixation persists – no soothers or thumbs for a long time now but both kids have times where having one would help. We found that chewing gum helps. But then gum is either full of sugar or aspartame or it tastes like crap. Ah, we can’t win for trying. For our kids the oral fixation thing often kicks in when they are bored and the car is a common place for this happen. So we keep gum in the car.

    But gum needs to be spit out at times and on one trip to Kingston three Easter’s ago I grabbed a parking stub thing, wrapped up some used gum in it and stuck it in the pocket of my brand new, much adored Orage blue spring neoprene jacket. A little bit later R. threw up in the car and we hastily pulled over. It was terrible for her and I ended up offering up my new coat to help clean up the mess. Hell, I thought, it’s washable and we were headed to my mom’s where I could do it quickly.

    When I saw the picture of the rescued lip balm I thought immediately of that Easter. My coat, with its discarded gum hiding in the pocket, when through the wash and dryer. Have you ever seen already chewed Trident Cinnamon Gum after it has been washed, dried and smeared/affixed to a brand new robin’s egg blue lovely spring jacket? The coat was totally wrecked but I wore it for 2 more years anyway – my modern mummy hairshirt for all of the parenting success, failures and experiments still under way.

    • wow – thanks for this. It’s so nice to have reminders (not to mention vivid visuals) of other people’s oral fixation / laundry challenges 🙂

  2. But do the orthodontists actually know what will make a bite (a ‘wrong’ bite) better or worse, really? Neither of my kids sucked their thumbs. Kid 1 has had orthodontic intervention from the age of 3 onwards for her crossbite, and next month she’s getting – at age 10 – a full set of braces. Not sucking your thumb is no guarantee of dental perfection.

    p.s. I sucked my thumb until I was 6. Or maybe 7; I don’t remember. I am OK with that. 🙂

    • Alexandra – we even went to ‘your’ orthodontist! For all I said about not thinking about it anymore I would like to talk to an orthodontist who has a track record of turning some patients away saying their mouths will grow up just fine. Do those exist, I wonder?

  3. My husband and I were both thumb suckers until age 7. My 4 year old sucks hers whenever she’s, ahem, engaged in watching TV or ready to head down for a nap. I haven’t thought about stopping her figuring that like her dad and me, she’ll eventually quit it on her own. But I admit, I wish as an adult I had something so at the ready for instant comfort.

  4. We’re already busting through the age-7-deadline over here. And to be honest, they inherited this from me. And mine still tastes good (give it a try when in need of instant comfort) 🙂

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