Tag Archives: thumbsucking

wildly exciting update

Today is Friday. On Wednesday Akka picked up the bottle of bad-tasting nail polish that was in our large pile of discarded thumbsucking deterrents. I *very casually* asked if she’d like some help painting it on her nails. She said yes. I helped her put it on and she set out for school with shiny, glossy, bad-tasting fingernails.

After school she stuck her thumb in her mouth and made a face and took it out again. No big deal. She seemed fine with it. It wasn’t until bedtime that things got hairy. She started wailing that she wanted her thumb. Not bratty wailing – real, sad crying about the misery of wanting one’s thumb and of realizing that shiny, glossy nails are fun during the day but anguish at night. We told her she was being brave and strong and that she’d be ok. I left to go out to play the ukulele and let K handle the first thumb-less night alone. I also made sure he knew where the nail polish remover was before I left, thereby confirming that I am not the parent who is best equipped to handle the first thumb-less night.

She did it. She held on to her little stuffed toy and read her book and fell asleep without her thumb (so I’m told. I was out playing the ukulele drinking). In the morning she said it had been a tough night but once we started treating her like a freaking hero she stopped complaining long enough to let a few shy, proud smiles sneak through.

She did it again the next night. And today we painted her nails with colour and put the yucky stuff over top. I’m crazy-proud. I even took her to the store and bought her one of the dolls that she loves and I hate. I know it might not last (and she knows it too) but we’ve been talking about how the worst is over – now she knows she can go without it. It’ll never be as hard as that first night (right?!!). Too bad they haven’t bottled the comfort that comes with thumb-sucking and turned it into some kind of skin patch that I can slap on her arm when she’s having cravings. Jonesing for her thumb.

So is this the beginning of the end of thumb-sucking for her? We shall see. Let’s just call it a beginning of an end.


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┬áto 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.



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.