A Letter to the Condemned Parent of a Thumb Sucker

Posted by Jayne Schembri on

Dear parent,

Concerning matters of opinion

One of the most incredible things about the Internet is how it allows us to communicate. Had Covid hit during my childhood, the sense of isolation would have been unbearable. On the other hand, one of the most sickening things about the Internet is also how it allows us to communicate. Today much of the world has a voice. While we always had the right to our own opinion, now people are also claiming the right to express it free of charge while retaining anonymity.

I've been a mother for more than thirty years. I have eight children and would certainly classify myself as an experienced parent. Despite this, I still struggle to avoid the unsolicited scrutiny and advice thrown at me by total strangers.  Admittedly well-meaning friends and family members have occasionally questioned my parenting choices too. By way of example, a favorite topic of discussion has always been our decision to homeschool the children. When it comes to loved ones and close friendships, however, even when comments are hurtful, I can accept such words originate from a place of concern. When it comes to casual observers and Internet ' trolls', there are no such underlying affections.

Trolls and busy-bodies

Trolls and busy-bodies don't care whether their views are cruel or whether they instil anxiety or self-doubt in their victims. These self-proclaimed experts are little more than thrill-seekers, preying on the confidence of others. It doesn't mean your choices are wrong. Honestly, in most cases, it does not matter which choice you make. It will always be the wrong one for these 'specialists in the field.'

I'm not saying we should never express our unrequested concern or opinion to others. For example, there are times when abuse or neglect are suspected, and then it is absolutely the right thing to speak up.  However, condemning others simply because they make different parenting choices to ourselves is not okay.

We all make mistakes

I have made plenty of good decisions and rather a lot of bad ones since becoming a parent.  Coincidentally so have all my friends and family members.  None of us are perfect, and the truth is we are just doing the best we can, with what we know and all we have. Most of us share the desire to see our children thrive into happy, confident, and decent humans. So it frustrates me to the core when I see devoted parents hurt by negative comments from people who should know better.

The Great Claims

Recently I discovered that some delightful characters now consider it their duty to criticize parents of thumb-suckers via Social Media and publicly. The issue, it seems, is not that children suck their thumbs. Instead, the parents who are actively encouraging their children away from the habit are being criticized. The claims of those pointing the finger are

  • Thumb Sucking is natural; thus, it is child abuse to stop a child from sucking their thumb.
  • Parents who use thumb guards or other aids to help their children are simply lazy.
  • All children stop thumb sucking before adulthood and do so naturally
  • Older children only suck their thumbs because they are emotionally damaged
  • Thumb guards are cruel
  • No harm comes from the habit
  • All children respond to reasoning
  • I sucked my thumb for years, and nothing happened to my teeth, so, therefore, your child's teeth won't be affected
  • My children all sucked their thumbs, and none of them wear braces.
  • Dental treatment for children is always free anyhow.

Reasonable Decisions

If you are one of the unfortunate parents to have received comments like those above, you have my absolute sympathy. Most of you are reading this, having decided to help your child stop thumb sucking.  Many of you have agreed with your child that the time is right to end the habit. Maybe your child is due to start school soon, or they have fallen victim to playground taunts because they accidentally sucked their thumb in front of their peers. Perhaps your child is finding it hard to stop, having sucked their thumb for many years. Or maybe you have tried other methods, such as nail paint, to help your child break the habit, only to discover your child has a fondness for the taste.

Others will be visiting because a family doctor or dentist has expressed concerns about your child's health, teeth position, or jaw shape. Perhaps your little one is not reaching milestones when it comes to speech.  You might find yourself here because your youngster has developed a skin infection from constant exposure to saliva, or your baby has painful blisters from sucking. I am confident that not one of you is here because you awoke this morning having decided to be cruel to your child.

Honest Opinions?

Is there any truth at all in the hurtful claims of these finger pointers? Fractionally, but only in the loosest possible form. Let's consider each point as listed.

         Is it natural?

  • Thumb Sucking is indeed natural, and many babies begin the habit while  still in the womb. In truth, their strong need to suck is a basic survival instinct. Without it, feeding would be difficult. Sucking also comforts babies, helping little ones to self-soothe during the night. There is no need to stop a young baby or toddler from sucking their thumb in most cases. However, it is not an act of cruelty when parents have to restrict the sucking. Infections including Paronychia, skin conditions such as eczema, and painful sucking blisters are difficult to heal when thumb sucking continues.

           Lazy parenting?

  • Parents who use thumb guards or other aids to help their children stop thumb sucking are certainly not lazy. It would be inert to do nothing when your child has a need. Finding solutions to care for a child means parenting actively. Active and lazy do not belong in the same sentence.

          No need for help?

  • It is not true that all children stop thumb sucking before adulthood. We have many visitors to our site and users of our thumb guards who are well into their adult years. There are multiple reasons adults continue to suck their thumbs, and all adults deserve support and encouragement if they want or need help to stop.

          Emotional damage?

  • Claiming that it is always a sign of emotional damage or insecurity when an older child continues to suck their thumb is wrong. For most long-term thumb suckers, the problem is that they are so used to the habit, they often suck their thumbs without being aware of it. Our older site visitors describe the practice as an addiction, affording them a genuine sense of withdrawal when they try to stop. Many reveal they are taunted for inadvertently sucking their thumbs in class or the workplace. It is the bullying they receive as a result that they find most emotionally damaging.

          Cruel restraints?

  • Thumb guards are not cruel. They do not restrict your child from play, and they are not restraints. They are comfortable, colourful, child-friendly aids for most children to use independently. Where possible, we encourage parents to allow children to select their own thumb guard from our range to ensure each child has a fabric design they are happy to wear. We offer a choice of fastenings to be sure the guard is compatible with each child's needs or ability. We do not make guards that children cannot remove if they want to.

          No harm done?

  • As dentists and doctors will confirm, it is a misconception to claim that thumb sucking does not harm. Some children escape difficulties. However, many, like my son, do not.  The impairment to teeth and facial structure can require several years of treatment. When we began making thumb guards, our son's teeth and jaw were already damaged. He had a large overbite and a recessive chin. He still can't eat properly because he cannot bite food. Where his lower teeth press into them, his gums and mouth roof are often sore.  My son's speech is also affected, and he is self-conscious about his appearance. These discomforts have been endured for several years because treatment could not start until all his adult teeth had appeared. When the treatment does start, he will then have to cope with the discomfort of braces and possibly surgery. When dentists recommend that parents encourage their children to stop thumb sucking, it is never cruel to act on that advice.

          Sound reasoning?

  • It always fascinates me when the self-proclaimed experts tell us that all children respond to reasoning. Perhaps most will respond occasionally. However, given that children are all individuals with free will, the idea that they will always make wise choices or behave reasonably is ludicrous.  Such claims do not explain why so many adults in the world (trolls included) have yet to master these skills, and they do not allow for the needs of children with disabilities. If your child did not stop thumb sucking even after you carefully explained why they should, you have not failed as a parent. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

          Who's thumb is it anyway?

  • Just because someone sucked their thumb for years without damaging their teeth does not prove that the teeth of another child won't be affected. Often it depends on how the habit has progressed and how frequently the thumb is sucked. Active, firm sucking causes more damage than simply resting the thumb in the mouth, for example. My response of choice to comments like this has to be, "Don't point your finger at my child. You weren't the one sucking their thumb."

          Braces?

  • "My children all sucked their thumbs, and none of them wear braces" is the second most frequently delivered statement from the thumb guard naysayers. Again please remember that their experience has nothing to do with your child. Besides, as a dentist once told me, the fact that a child does not wear braces has no bearing on whether they really should. Some parents do not even take their children to the dentist or encourage the brushing of teeth. It doesn't mean they don't have cavities or need a toothbrush.

 

  • I should add that thumb sucking is not the only factor leading to the need for braces. There are plenty of children who never sucked their thumbs that need them for a time. However, ending the habit can significantly reduce the likelihood or at least prevent an existing condition from worsening.
 

          The Cost?

  • Dental treatment is certainly not free for every child. In some countries, it may not even be accessible. Some children will have the opportunity to make use of subsidized treatments, and others will not. My son is currently 13 years old. We have been told to expect a dental bill in the region of $4000 plus. I know from speaking to other parents that we are far from alone. Had I realized what the future held when my son was four and yet to cut his adult teeth, I would undoubtedly have created thumb guards sooner. We may have designed them too late to spare our child from discomfort, but we hope we can make a difference to others through our thumb guards.

So, if you are the condemned parent of a thumb sucker, take heart. Helping your child end their thumb-sucking habit is neither cruel nor the mark of a bad parent. We wish you every joy in your parenting journey.

The Thumb Guard Store

 

 

 


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