Sort of About Finger Sucking

I experienced an interesting moment with my son this past week.  It’s sort of about finger sucking, but sort of not. I’m starting with finger sucking.

Three out of four of my children sucked their fingers when they were babies.  It was a good thing in a way, because there’s no fussing with a dummy, but it can be hard to break the habit later on, and there is a concern about teeth movement and speech issues with long term finger sucking.

I never made a big deal of it. It just happened.  And when I felt it was time to wean my children off finger sucking, I used different approaches, depending on the child.

No 1

My eldest daughter sucked her two middle fingers until her the majority of her teeth came through at about 2 and a half years. Then, she suddenly stopped so I had no issues there.

baby sucking fingers

No 2

To my second daughter, holding a special bunny while sucking her thumb was the ultimate comfort.  When she went to pre-school, I talked to her about limiting her thumb sucking to sleep time.  Before she started the first year of school, I asked her to think about stopping, and gave her reasons for this. You see, this daughter of mine is fiercely independent, and I have learned to appeal to her intellect so she can make the decision herself.  I left it with her and then one day, she told me she had come to the decision to stop. To be honest, I thought it would take a while to break the habit but she NEVER did it again after that day.

kids sucking thumb

No 3

My third daughter didn’t suck her fingers. She took a dummy for about 6 months and then was happy to hold her special pink blanket for comfort. She still sleeps with it.

comfort blanket for children

No 4

My son is about 6 months in the first picture below.  He is four now, and those same fingers are still used to self-soothe, usually only when he is tired during the day and at night.  As he is in pre-school this year, I recently talked to him about limiting finger sucking to bedtime.  I’m not enforcing it, but am putting the idea out there and I’ll address it again at a later date.

finger sucking

I’m not exactly sure what approach I’ll take with my son yet, but an interesting conversation gave me a clue.

Me: So son, now that you’re a big boy, I want you to think about sucking your fingers only at bedtime, and not at Kindy.

Son: But Mum, you’re not there at Kindy.

It wasn’t so much defiance in his voice but there was definitely a challenge in his tone.

It was an interesting moment and I paused.

This very thing is both a joy and fear I face as mother.  It gives me great joy when my children reach a new stage of independence. I want my children to spread their wings, but I do admit to feeling a little fearful at not being there to guide their choices and control the influences — positive and negative. That’s makes me sound like a control freak, doesn’t it?  I always wonder and worry if I have done enough to prepare them for life.  I articulated more about this in a post for Kleenex Mums.

The challenge in my son’s voice reminded me of this complex feeling. I felt like saying, “Mums ALWAYS have ways to find out stuff!” Ha!

But instead I said:

Me: Son, you’re right. I’m not there at Kindy with you.  You’re growing up and this is the start of making good choices because you can decide things for yourself.  I just want you to think about it. Think about not sucking your fingers at Kindy. That’s all.

Son: Sure mum.

That was it. Nothing more was said and the rest of the drive to my son’s Kindy was spent in comfortable silence.

My son seemed pleased at the confidence I had in him.  He seemed proud, in a good way, of the new power I acknowledged.

I don’t know when the finger sucking will stop or if it will be easy like the other times.  I’m not even worried about it right now. I’m just living life, and learning more about, and with my kids as we go along. One step at a time.

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Kelly loves life at both ends of the spectrum: wearing high heel shoes one day and hiking boots the next; sipping tea out of a pretty cup and slurping hot coffee from a camping mug; challenging herself physically and stopping for quiet unhurried moments to feel the wind on her face. Kelly and her husband Matthew seek to live a fun and adventurous life with their four children and pet bird.

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  1. says

    They are all so very lovely.

    I love this choice concept. One we ise at our house, a lot. It just seems to work. (IF I can let go.My temptation is to nag/tell them exactly what they need to do. The change has to come from me…)

  2. says

    I have four children too. 3 of them sucked their fingers. Almost identical to yours.
    Now my brother’s children do it too. I just let the kids do it slowly & gently, with encouragement & gentle coaxing. It worked for me. My 2nd told me he would stop sucking them on his 5th birthday.
    You know what he did? He stopped sucking them on his 5th birthday. Amazing. My 3rd is still occasionally going for his thumb, but it is getting less and less. Great post. Come visit me sometime. I think we have a similar take on life-ha.

  3. says

    My son has just started sucking his fingers… he’s 4. *sigh* so I’m trying to give him space to work through why he’s doing it and he’ll hopefully stop soon.

  4. says

    My eldest had a dummy which was ‘easily’ removed around the age of 2. My middle daughter didn’t have a ‘comforter’. And at 3 1/2 my youngest sucks her thumb and like you we’ve slowly started making suggestions to stop. I feel a little mean sometimes but we’ve started some other initiatives to help her on a little. For example we wait for her thumb to come out of her mouth before we can ‘continue’ reading a book. We suggest the that the TV might have to be turned off if the thumb doesn’t come out. All this is to try and limit the thumbsucking to bedtime. If we don’t do these things the thumb literally lives inside her mouth. Eventually we hope she’ll make the final decision to quit and it will be easier given it will only be at bedtime. Thumbs crossed!!

  5. Renee says

    Hi Kelly
    Have you had any problems with sleep time with your kids?? My son (almost 5) has always needed me to lay down or be in the room when he goes to sleep at night and my daughter (almost 3) used to be very good at going to sleep by herself (although she still sucks a dummy which I would LOVE to get off her. Now she needs us to lay down with her to go to sleep at night. (I am thinking this is since my son told her there are monsters in her room which I am finding very difficult to make her see that there is no such things as monsters and to which he got in lots of trouble for scaring her!) She goes to sleep well by herself (with the help of her dummy) during her day sleep but just not at night. I am happy to lay down with both of them and give them a cuddle until they go to sleep (I want to enjoy all my cuddles while they are still happy to have them) but it is a little difficult to do both when my husband goes away (which is sometimes alot). I should also mention that I have just had baby number three as well. I have been putting all in my bedroom when my husband goes away for work but it is still incredibly stressful. I have a mattress on the floor, a cot for the baby and the two older kids take turns each night as to who sleeps in mummy’s bed and who sleeps on the floor. I really don’t like the control crying method and do not want to use it so I was just wondering that since you’ve had four children (that classes you as an expert in my book) and I really like your posts, I find them very real and very similar to my own life, except i don’t do any work besides just being a housewife and mum at the moment. Anyway your above article got me thinking and I was wondering if you have come across this in your parenting so far and if you have any tips to make the whole bedtime ordeal less stressful when I am doing it by myself???

    • says

      Hi Renee,
      My three year old was totally addicted to his dummy so I invented a ‘dummy fairy’ for him. I told him she would be coming soon, and asked was there a toy that he really wanted in return for his dummies. He asked for a big green digger, the same as his friend’s one. On the day the fairy was coming ‘she’ left a note in our letter box telling him that today was the day and that she would take good care of his dummies. Then, when he was asleep that night we took the dummies (make sure you search the house carefully) and left the digger next to his bed.
      For us, this worked really well because my son never blamed us for the loss of the dummies. He blamed the mean dummy fairy (although I did point out that he got a pretty awesome digger) and we could sympathise with him in a way that would have been impossible if he knew that we took them.
      It also meant that we could control the timing and when he asked me to buy him another one I told him the dummy fairy would come and take his digger away if I did that, which he accepted.
      All in all it was suprisingly painless. He was SO in love with his dummy and I really thought that none of us would ever sleep again but actually he had a little trouble getting to sleep for a couple of nights and then it was all over!
      Good luck with it.

    • says

      Hi Renee. My kids sleep well now (although, my son (4) still climbs into our bed at some point during the night most nights). My two youngest children go bed at 7pm, and my two older kids also go to bed at 7 but can read until 8.30 pm.

      I’m pretty strict about bedtime these day, because I’m exhausted (like all us mums are!!) by the end of the day and really need some time to chill out. But I too, have had times when my children have been scared before bed, and even now, I leave the light on for my younger children and turn it off before I go to bed. I remember similar times when I had to sleep with my son before he went to sleep…most nights. That lasted about 3 months by memory.

      I try and find the balance between being firm, and being sensitive and nurturing. There have been periods of time where I have had a mattress on the floor too, but knowing I would need to break it when things settle down again. There are many seasons, and I don’t really have any advice.

      The only tips I would say is keep the pre bedtime routine consistent, wear out the kids with exercise during the day if possible, and give them lots and lots of affection during the day. I actually find that helps with the bedtime. Also, I found that TV in the afternoon didn’t help so it was no to that.

      For me, at the end of the day, it was about finding what works (and just getting through sometimes!) …this changes too depending on what is going on with the kids. In saying that, I had to remind myself sometimes to not be afraid to be MUM and call the shots when I know what is best for the entire family. It helped me to have a goal so I knew what I though would be best for the family. It’s the 7pm thing (the time will change over time). I worked towards that…to have all the kids in bed by 7-7.30 so my husband and I can have time to invest in each other. This helps us as a family. It’s not always perfect, kids go through phases and need more comfort sometimes.

      Don’t know if that is any help. It’s such a challenge when you’re tired and the husband is away!!!

      You’re doing a good job!

  6. says

    I love the way you dealt with the situation Kelly. My eldest daughter sounds very much like your second. Fiercely independent, and will immediately put her foot down if she feels you are “telling” her to do something without a good rationale…

    (speech pathology stuff) Related to finger sucking (similar to dummy use), for most children it is not problematic if confined to sleep time (or non-talking times) and weaned before school age. For some children, if using a lot of pressure with fingers/ thumb on the teeth, it can lead to permanent orthodontic issues (usually an open bite, or an overbite), which in turn can impact swallowing patterns (referred to as a tongue-thrust swallow) and speech production (particularly lisp on the s, z sounds, or even tongue protrusion for t, d, n sounds. If this is the case, it can only be “fixed” by teaching a new resting tongue placement, tongue placement for swallowing and speech, and eventually, orthodontic intervention…

    As I said though, this case is less usual in thumb/ finger suckers and as a parent (rather than a speech pathologist), I would say that if the thumb/ fingers are helping them self-soothe and leading to more sleep for everyone… not really an issue in the first few years of life!

  7. Zoe says

    My son sucks his thumb but only when he goes to sleep or has his blankie. Thanks for the tips on handling weaning him off it if it ever gets to that stage :)

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