How I gave up thumb-sucking - an interview with Jack, aged 14

Teenage boy holding up his thumb.

Hi Jack, can you tell me some things about yourself?

Yes, my actual name is Jackson, but I'm known as Jack. I live in London, in the U.K and I'm an only child. Oh and I admit I sucked my thumb until about two years  ago. I was embarrassed about that for a while, but now I don't mind telling people because it might help someone not feel like I did. 


Do you know how old you were when you started sucking your thumb?

Not exactly. My mum says I started when I was baby and I might even have sucked my thumb when I was in her womb. She has some photos of me sucking my thumb way before I was a year old so maybe I sucked them from the moment they grew on my hands. My mum says she thought thumb sucking was better than using a dummy because you can't spit a thumb over the side of your pram. Later I think she changed her mind. If Id had a dummy, she would have been able to just throw that away.


Do you remember the first time someone told you not to suck your thumb?

I don’t know if it was really the first time, but I can remember I was waiting to see my dentist and I was sucking my thumb in the waiting room. The dentist saw me and told my mum I would get crooked teeth because I had some adult teeth coming through. After that my parents were always telling me to take my thumb out of my mouth. I remember thinking it was my thumb and I should be able to suck it if I wanted to. I didn’t understand what the problem was even though the dentist had told me. I didn't really think it was going to happen to me.


Did you suck your thumb a lot or only at certain times?

Mostly I remember sucking my thumb when I went to bed. I always sucked my thumb when I was tired, it helped me go to sleep. But I also did it if I was watching television or bored and sometimes if I was concentrating or nervous too.

Then there was a time at school. I don’t know why I did it, I didn’t think about it, but I started sucking my thumb in class and this other kid saw me. He was a bit of a bully and he gave me a hard time. He even got my best friend to call me names. It was horrible.

My mum went in and spoke to my teacher about the bullying. My teacher said it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t suck my thumb. All I know is that the experience made me really sad and when I was sad, I wanted to suck my thumb even more.


What did your parents do to try and help you stop thumb sucking?

At first, they would just tell me to stop it, and my mum would give me 'the look'. My parents started telling me I was too old to suck my thumb. I think they were right really, but it wasn’t so easy for me to stop because I liked doing it. Then my mum got a little bottle of liquid and she painted it on my thumb nails. It was bitter and was meant to help me stop thumb-sucking. I think it probably worked for loads of kids, but it didn’t work for me because I actually liked the taste. I like those really sour gobstoppers you can buy too, so the paint was more like a reward.

Then my dad made me a reward chart. I think I got extra pocket money or something if I didn’t suck my thumb. At least that was how it was meant to work, but I figured out I could get the reward and still suck my thumb, as long as my parents weren’t looking.

Then my grandmother told my parents to tape socks onto my hands. My mum tried that a couple of times but you can’t do normal stuff with your hands inside a pair of socks. She gave up on that idea pretty quickly when she realised I couldn’t even make my bed. I didn't mind getting out of doing chores, but after that mum and dad decided to wait and see if I stopped thumb sucking by myself.


How old were you when you wanted to stop thumb sucking?

Would you believe I was twelve? It's true, I remember because it was a few weeks before going to the senior school. It sounds silly now, but when I tried on my blazer I felt more grown up. It was like a switch turned and I thought it was high time I gave up the habit. The funny thing was, I had always thought I sucked my thumb just because I wanted to. But when I decided I wanted to stop, it was like I couldn’t do it. I guess I must have been addicted somehow.

The more I tried not to suck my thumb, the more I did it. I even did it when I wasn’t thinking about it. I can’t explain how it bothered me but it did. I didn’t want a repeat of what happened in school when I was five. The thought made me really anxious. I am quite a shy person any how so the worry was starting to make me not want to start the new school at all.


I know you ended up using thumb guards. How did that come about?

Well, it was still the summer holidays, so my parents sent me to stay with my cousin for a week. He was also going to move up to a senior school, so I think they thought it would be good for us to be able to talk together about our fears and things.  

It was a fun week but then, quite randomly, my cousin asked me what had happened to my teeth. I didn't know what he meant, but then he said I looked a bit like the boys in that kids film, Pinocchio, you know, when they start to turn into donkeys? I don’t know why, but I never really noticed it until he mentioned it. But it was true, my teeth sort of stuck out and made me look a bit goofy.

Anyway, I figured if my cousin noticed my teeth, the kids at my new school would too. I phoned my mum and asked her to make me an appointment with the dentist for when I got home. I didn’t want my classmates getting on at me about my teeth. Of course they were bound to notice, but for some reason I still hoped the dentist would have a quick fix he could use. Unfortunately he didn't. 


What did your dentist say?

As it happened I ended up seeing a different dentist to the one when I was little. He was really nice to me, although he did also say that I had something called an over bite and an overjet and that my teeth got that way because I sucked my thumb for too long. He said I would need to wear braces and might need other treatment too.

It’s a bit embarrassing now, but I kind of got upset and ended up telling him how hard it had been for me to stop thumb sucking. I thought he would laugh at me or tell me off, but he didn’t. He just asked me if I had ever tried using thumb guards. He said that he had another patient who had come to an appointment wearing one. Apparently, it had really helped the other person to stop the habit. My dentist had asked them where they got their thumb guard and they gave him your name. So, when we got home, my mum looked up your business on line.


How did you feel about using a thumb guard?

I guess most people would think I wouldn't want to wear a glove over my thumb, but to be honest I was really happy. It was something I could wear to help myself. I was ready to quit the habit, I just needed the right tool to get the job done.

Also, I know I was a bit older than a lot of kids who come to you, but the first thing I noticed was that you make guards in fabric designs and sizes for all ages. This meant I wasn’t the only person my age to have a thumb-sucking problem and need a thumb-guard. It helped a lot just knowing that, and having a big choice of fabrics was also a massive bonus. I thought I would end up with something a bit plain and boring because of my age, but I got some with Harleys on them. I'm a bit of a bike fan you see. I actually got a couple for each hand, so I had one to wear when the other was in the wash too.


Did wearing a thumb guard help you stop thumb sucking?

Yes, totally. I mean it didn’t fix my teeth of course and it wasn’t an overnight fix, but after about four weeks I realised I had stopped wanting to suck my thumb and I hadn’t had to try hard at all.


Did any of your friends notice you had a thumb guard?

Yes, well one did. My friend George stopped by with his mum. We weren't expecting them to come but my mum told him I was watching television, so he just came into the room to join me while our mums chatted. I was wearing my guards at the time and he sort of stopped and stared at me hands.  It was a bit awkward at first. He was staring and I was waiting for him to laugh out loud. But then the funniest thing happened. He asked what I was wearing, so I just said I had a bad habit I was trying to stop. Turns out he was a thumb sucker too and we had never told one another. His mum ordered him some guards the same day. So we ended up quitting together.


Is there anything you would like to add? 

No, not realIy, except wish I had known about thumb guards when I was younger, but at least it meant I was not sucking my thumb when I was a teenager. The thumb guards fixed my habit and the dentist fixed my teeth, so it all turned out great in the end.

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