How to gently stop your child from sucking thumb

Thumb sucking is a temporary phase

DURING DUSSEHRA, I went golu- and pandal-hopping like everyone else. After a no-show for two years, it felt wonderful to pray, eat and socialise with family, friends and neighbours. It was delightful to see little children, literally kept under wraps during a good part of these last two years, take part in the festivities. On the last day of Navratri, I happened to be at a friend’s golu. The centre of attention was not the display of golu dolls, to my friend’s chagrin, but a little boy who kept sucking his thumb. Obviously, the boy’s parents didn’t enjoy the attention, but the guests very much enjoyed discussing the causes and consequences of thumb sucking―all of which, not surprisingly, was alarmist.

Thumb sucking is a temporary phase that children (not necessarily every child) go through for various reasons. It could be because the child has been recently weaned (misses the breast and receives relief from thumb sucking), or because she misses the physical presence of her parent (in which case the act provides comfort) or because of physical (like moving houses) or emotional (fights and arguments in the family) turmoil in the household (where thumb sucking provides a sense of security). The list is endless and the habit unbreakable until the child understands for herself that grown-ups don't do it.

Do not tease a child about it. If you are with her most of the time, try and distract her when she starts sucking her thumb. Take your child for walks to the market, a relative's house, out to the park, sing or read to her―in short, engage in a completely different activity.

Thumb sucking is no indication of the child's future mental or emotional development. Give your child time to come out of this phase. Meanwhile, try and distract her. And ever so gently, remind her that most kids, especially the ones she is attached to such as an older sister or cousin don't do it either. That sure does help kick the habit.