Q&A: thumbsucking toddler

1. Claudia is wondering if anyone (rudyinparis?) knows where she can rent a pram in Paris, France. If you know, leave it in the comments or email me with "pram rental in Paris" in the subject line.

2. Am I completely and utterly nuts? We’re adopting two kittens, and they’re arriving tonight. (Our old cat died about 15 months ago, so it was time. But kittens?)

3. Why does Jane Seymour look better at 56 than I do at 34? Oh, yeah. Plastic surgery.

4. Am I the only one who’s kind of baffled by this question from Julie (not her confusion, but the big deal her doctor is making)?

"My DS 15 months is a thumb sucker.  I didn’t have
a problem with this as it calms him down just like my DD’s paci did for
her.  However, at a doctor appointment last evening, the pediatrician –
whose child status I do not know – noted my son’s thumb sucking and
asked if he ever got infections.  I told him he did have broken skin
sometimes, but no infections.  The doctor said that they encourage
positive reinforcement such as toys, CANDY??, and the like, when he isn’t
sucking his thumb.  He stressed the possibility of infections, which I had
never heard of nor thought about.  So my question, now that I am freaking
out – like I needed one more thing to freak out about – is has
anyone’s child gotten an infection from thumb sucking?  Further, how
do I positively reinforce him NOT sucking his thumb, when the only time he isn’t
is when he is engaged in something else anyway, like eating or playing with
toys?  How will he know that the new toy I give him is for not sucking his
thumb?  Or that the extra piece of cheese I’ve cut up is positive
reinforcement?  Am I complicating this too much?  Do I need to
worry?  Ok, so MANY questions, but I already had a nightmare about a thumb
amputation, so I would love some of your and your readers’ input.  I
am fine with him sucking his thumb for comfort, but will try to get him to stop
if it will prevent some horrible contamination.  Thanks so much for your
help and consideration!"

I’m confused about what kind of infection your doctor thinks your son is going to get. An infection of the thumb itself? Or some other kind.

I think it’s been shown that thumb sucking (like pacifier-using) is only a problem if the child does it all the time. If the child only does it for occasional comfort or to fall asleep, it’s pretty harmless. I know I’ve talked about how I sucked my thumb for a loooong time when I went to sleep, and then a few years ago when I needed braces I asked my orthodontist if it had anything to do with my thumbsucking. She said no, that if you’re going to need braces you’ll need them, and unless a kid has the thumb in his mouth all the time or sucks particularly strongly it won’t cause dental problems that wouldn’t already be there. (It turns out my need for braces was from a heredity thing with my teeth. I went to a family reunion in my braces and had 5 family members, including my brother, share that they’d had braces for the same thing. Also, braces as an adult suck rocks, but are so worth it.)

The thing that freaks me out about your doctor’s advice is the suggestion that candy is a good substitute for thumb sucking. Huh? Are there any dentists in the house that want to comment on that one?

(I’m thinking there’s a need for positive reinforcement foods. Anyone want to fill that niche by marketing organic cheese precut in smiley faces, with "You can do it!!" embossed on one side? No?)

15 months is one of those times that kids are starting to work out their own comfort measures. Pacifiers and thumb-sucking are often parts of that. You have to choose your own position, but my position is that it’s always better to provide more comfort for a child than less. I’d give it another many months, until he’s verbal enough to be able to express his feelings better and tell you how he feels, before I’d try to get him to stop. If he seems obsessive about it or like he’s sucking really strongly, you might want to get a referral to a pediatric speech therapist, but if it’s just normal comfort sucking, it’ll work itself out as he gets better at regulating his own emotions and asking for comfort when he needs it, and needing comfort less.

Any other opinions? She could always duct tape his hands to his sides or teach him to knit or do Sudoku to occupy his hands.

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