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I can’t tell you how many people reach out to me on a regular basis to share their concern over Marlowe’s thumb sucking! It’s rare for me to NOT be worried about things that other people are worried about (hello, Anxiety Disorder!), but the constant suggestion that her being four and “still” being a thumbsucker made me think a bit. Why wasn’t I concerned? I realized in giving it some thought that it’s actually a really interesting topic for discussion, and it’s perhaps one of the few parenting topics that I don’t feel conflicted about. I thought I would share a bit about Marlowe’s thumb sucking here today, and would open up the discussion for other parents who want to share what worked for them!
Marlowe came out of the womb with an oral fixation– heck, she had one IN the womb! Whenever we did an ultrasound, there she’d be either sucking one of her appendages or licking her placenta. Yes you read that right. I remember going in to a 30 week ultrasound and the technician saying as soon as she turned on the machine: “Oh! You got a little placenta licker in there!” (I mean. Ew. LOL. ) Once Marlowe was born, she loved feeding and/or having her pacifier in her mouth. It was a MUST. I ended up writing a piece about what an ordeal it was to have to take the pacifier away from her WAY early because I was literally clocking an hour of sleep a night! She would fall asleep fine with the paci, but as soon as she nodded off and it fell out of her mouth, she would wake up screaming. It was nuts. I ended up taking the pacifier away cold turkey, and after three days from hell, she found her thumb!!
My Mother-in-Law gave me awesome advice and told me to get her a lovey right away. Every time she put her thumb in her mouth, I should give her the lovey. That way she’d associate the thumb sucking with the lovey, and wouldn’t stick her thumb in her mouth unless she had the lovely also. And it worked!! Since just a few months old, Marlowe has been a thumbsucker– but thankfully only when we allow her the lovey. This has kept her from sucking her thumb all day long, and I think it prevented speech delays since we could prevent her from choosing the thumb over talking to us.
At first, we would only give her the lovey at nap times, bed times, and on car rides/plane trips. Then, as she got older and started getting bumps and bruises, separation anxiety, and during the phase when she became a big sister– we allowed her to have it a lot more. It was really comforting for her to suck her thumb and hold her lovey, but it started getting a little out of hand. Over the past year, I’ve dialed it back a bit. Now she gets her lovey (and thumb sucking time) at night, on long trips, and if she’s sick or very hurt. She also manages to finagle her way in to getting it when we watch movies together (I guess it’s technically rest time?). I’m starting to think about dialing it back as we begin to discuss what the next steps are for her thumb sucking and what we should allow as she gets close to starting elementary school.
When Marlowe became a thumbsucker, I was actually beyond happy about it. The fact that she had an object on her person with which to self-soothe made life so much easier for me! I actually tried to encourage Major to suck his thumb also for this reason, but he refused both thumb AND pacifier. Go figure. My only concerns about the thumb sucking were speech delays and problems with her palate and teeth long-term.
At Marlowe’s first dentist appointment, I was prepared for them to be aghast at her thumb sucking, but after examining her mouth they told me not to worry. They actually said that if I hadn’t told them she sucked her thumb, they actually may not have even known. I couldn’t believe it! They said that some kids’ teeth really aren’t effected that badly by thumb sucking, while others’ are. All of a sudden, I really wasn’t worried about this so-called “bad habit”. Marlowe has also been through so many changes the past couple of years, with a new brother, moving across the country, a few home moves, and another on the horizon– I’m kind of relieved that she has something that makes her feel so secure. That’s not to say that I’m not pretty worried about the day when we have to get her to stop: I AM WORRIED. She’s obsessed, and I’m not quite sure what the gentlest method is to encourage her to stop without fully traumatizing her.
Full disclosure, while I never sucked my thumb, I have a bunch of close friends who did– and continued well in to their elementary school years. But they don’t suck their thumbs now! At least that’s what they tell me. LOL. In the meantime, I’ve been talking to Marlowe about it. I’ve been telling her that in elementary school, nobody brings their lovey or sucks their thumb in class, and that the day is coming when she’ll have to bring her thumb sucking to a close. She says she knows, and that when she’s ten she’s going to stop. LOL. I told her for orthodontic reasons she probably has to stop before that.
We agreed that this summer, we are going to keep her lovey in her room all day, and that lovey will ONLY come out at bedtime. She seems ok with that transition, and I’m planning to start there and see how it goes. I don’t know if taking the lovey away completely is the way to curb the habit, or if it’s more a painting-the-nail approach and letting lovey stay as a comforting friend. The whole thing is confusing for sure. I’m just trying to respectfully figure out a system that works for both of us, and that leaves her feeling empowered and not traumatized. I mean after all, if you ever saw photos of Kyle and I before braces, you’d know the poor girl is getting metal in her mouth no matter what, probably. Ha!
I would love to hear your experiences with your own thumbsuckers, if you feel so inclined to share!
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Photographs by Julia Dags.