In a recent column I said thumb-sucking is not, as was once thought, a sign of insecurity or other psychological problems. Well-adjusted children suck their thumbs and grow up to be well-adjusted adults. My daughter, who began sucking her thumb minutes after she was born (I think she used it to pass the time in utero), occasionally sucked her thumb to get to sleep when she was in high school. One time, when she was home from college, I checked on her around midnight and there she was, fast asleep with her favorite digit in her mouth. Today, Amy is a happily married homemaker with three children. She no longer sucks her thumb. She hasn’t the time.
I much prefer children sucking their thumbs to pacifiers, which have been shown to interfere with speech development as well as the ability to self-comfort. Thumbs have never been associated with speech problems, and they are an ideal form of self-comforting.
Fathers are prone to having a peculiar anxiety reaction when their sons suck their thumbs. I suppose they think this is the straight path to effeminacy, or becoming a momma’s boy, or something equally unmanly. No statistics exist on the number of SEALs or SWAT team members who sucked their thumbs as children, but I would venture to guess the percentage approximates that of the general population. Then there’s the dad who doesn’t like it that his 5-year-old son sucks his thumb, but buys him a video game and ignores the fact that he’s becoming slowly addicted.
Occasionally, I run into folks who tell me that hot sauce or mittens or dental appliances persuaded their kids to stop sucking their thumbs, but I meet a whole lot more parents who tell me that stuff didn’t work. We tried a dental appliance for a few weeks on Amy when she was a preschooler. She simply adjusted the position of her thumb to avoid the poisoned spikes and went right on sucking.
Most TSers stop when their social sensibilities awaken and they realize they’re sticking out like sore--yes, I’m actually going to say it—thumbs among their peers. For every 10 kids who are sucking their thumbs as toddlers, I’ll bet only one is still sucking at age six. Some, however, require additional persuasion, which is the subject of an email I received this week. The writer is a friend of mine who tells me she was, as a preschooler, a “dyed-in-the-wool” thumb-sucker whose mother tried everything to get her to stop, all to no avail (this was, mind you, back in the “thumb-sucking is a symptom of deep-seated psychological problems” era). Finally, mom consulted the child’s pediatrician, on whom she, the child, had an enormous crush. Said doc, whose first name was Bruce, looked like a Hollywood star and was charming to boot.
When my friend went in for her annual checkup, Dr. Bruce took her into his office, sat her down, and said, “Carol, if you stop sucking your thumb, you can call me Bruce from now on.”
My friend writes: “Never again did my thumb enter my mouth, and never again did I call him by his formal name. Where things of this sort are concerned, I suppose one must just find the correct currency.”
Thanks to my friend for a very thumby story.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions at www.rosemond.com.