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Did you know that a thumb can speak?

Well……. If you asked me this question six years ago I would probably have looked at you like you needed to be book into the nearest facility, but right now, I am an expert in Thumb Language. Yes… Thumb Language.

My second son sucks his thumb. He is now six years old and the habit continues. I have tried everything in the book to stop without success. There’s remedy I haven’t tried including: Putting pepper on it – he would suck the pepper right off, crying all the while whilst continuing sucking. It was torture for him and I stopped because it didn’t work. He didn’t stop; Tying up his thumbs with cellotape and sticky tape – he would pull and pull and pull and get the wrapping off. Sometimes with his skin attached to the sticky tape, and continue to suck the grazed thumb. It was torture and I stopped because it didn’t work. He didn’t stop; Donning on gloves – he would bite and bite and bite at the gloves irrespective of the material until he succeeded and would then suck his thumb through the hole. I gave up on the gloves too. Actually I gave up all together.

You see – he started sucking his thumb when he was about four months or so and everyone around me kept discouraging me from stopping it. “He’ll stop by himself” they said. Every time I pulled out his thumb from his mouth at the time, I was accused of mistreating him because he would cry for it. “Let him have his comfort” they said. I was the only one concerned with the thumb sucking and after facing fierce opposition from all quarters, friends and relatives alike, I gave in to pressure and let it be.
Needless to say it is six years down the line and in hindsight I wish I went with my gut feeling and my inner conviction. And so I say to all mothers out there – you know best. Do what you think is best for your baby, even in the face of no agreement. Be a bold leader for your child.You see – thumb sucking gives great comfort to the sucker. It fulfills a need. Many needs actually. It is a form of self-expression and self-gratification. It works wonders for the child sucking their thumb. It addresses their variant needs. Some children suck other fingers, but we’ll stick to the thumb for this conversation.

My son currently has what the dentist refers to as an ‘open bite’. This is as a result of the effect of the pressure of this thumb against his developing jaw and palate. To further clarify the effect of an open bite, picture this – with a normal dental configuration, if you want to bit an apple, you sink your front teeth into it and pull off the piece. With an open bit this is impossible as your bite is open. To eat an apple you need to fix it on the side of your mouth and use your canines to bite off the piece. Same for a piece of chicken for example. Open bite also gives rise to a lisp. And yes – my son has a lisp too.
Our dentist advises that although open bite cannot be completely corrected, it will be minimized by the use of braces which he assures us, we will have to get with time. Dr. Odupoy was also quite horrified at all the advice I’d received to let the thumb sucking continue. In his years of practice, he has only the strongest condemnation for the habit and advises all mothers to nip it in the bud as soon as they see any signs of its appearance. It is a dental formulation hazard for little palates and jaws.That notwithstanding, my concern is not about teeth, for I intend to raise my children to know that ‘they are not their teeth’ and that physical manifestations of any sort do not make a person. My concern is that the thumb sucking replaces communication and is a nightmare for mothers.

You see – a non thumb-sucking child will cry when hungry, or wet, or disturbed or annoyed or uncomfortable or unwell. When you child sucks their thumb, their first instinct is to pop it in their mouths to comfort themselves from whatever discomfort has attacked them.And so whereas I was accustomed to hearing a hungry cry and waking up to feed my first child, for my second son, I had to understand the thumb sucking signal. And the same way any mother is able to interpret their child’s crying type to know when it is a cry for hunger, a cry for fright, a cry for attention, a cry for sleep irritability, a cry for wetness or a cry for pain, a mother with a thumb sucking child does not have this luxury. Any time anything happens to the child – they pop their thumb right in. The thumb is their friend. Their best friend actually…….

And so I have had to interpret thumb language to fully understand my child’s communication and needs. I had to quickly learn and discern based on the rate of sucking, the actual sucking motion, the depth of sucking, the noise from the sucking activity, the intensity of the sucking and the position of the thumb as it is being sucked, to know what each type of sucking means, and to know when to respond to hunger, fright, attention, pain, fatigue, boredom and sleepiness. Yes – I am a thumb language expert. I have had to be

Now that he is six and is trying all on his own to stop for the social stigma of a six year old thumb sucker is getting to him, I have felt compelled to do something drastic. I have fully accepted that he is one of those that will never stop spontaneously. His Kindergarten teachers right from Baby Class right up to Pre- Unit also gave it their best shot with no success. We’ve conferred and agreed that now that he’s graduating into Standard One next year, and it seems to be bothering him, we can use external intervention. I will therefore cart him off to Dr. Odupoy’s to get a habit breaker otherwise known as a palatial crib fixed. This should do the trick soonest.

Not all children are the same and some stop thumb sucking easily and some don’t. The pity is that there’s no manual that comes with one’s child to tell you how they are wired. It is my appeal therefore that since it doesn’t hurt the child in any way to curb the habit on first appearance, it may be wise do so at that time rather than try and deal with it later. If you are already thumb-deep in it with your child, no worries, there’s lot of us out here and who knows, maybe we can start a thumb-sucking support group?


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