What are the Reasons for Thumb Sucking in Kids? 2

Thumb sucking habit in kids is a great concern for parents. Before taking steps to wean out this habit it is vital to know the reasons for Thumb Sucking.

Thumb Sucking habit inevitably creates a dispute – Comfort Vs Concern. Thumb sucking is a self-comforter for the tiny-tot whereas for a mom it’s a real concern how to get rid of the habit. Today I will guide you through the reasons for thumb sucking in kids from the very basics.


Sucking in Babies 

Thumb sucking habit in kids is a great concern for parents. Before taking steps to wean out this habit it is vital to know the reasons for Thumb Sucking.

The process of sucking is a reflex which occurs in the oral stage of development. It is seen even in 29 weeks of the intrauterine life.

This may disappear during the normal growth between the age of 1 – 3 1/2 years. This sucking reflex is responsible for breastfeeding. 

Nutritive Sucking Vs Non-Nutritional Sucking

Initially, the infants engage in Nutritive (breastfeeding) sucking. Slowly they learn, this sucking not only provides nutrition i.e. hunger satisfaction but also act as a great self-soother or self-comforter.

When the child grows and gradually weans off the nutritional sucking, they can develop alternative means of Non-nutritional sucking(thumb sucking or using pacifiers) that fulfills the same physical and emotional satisfaction.

What is Thumb Sucking?

Thumb sucking is a Non-nutritional sucking habit.

Thumb sucking is the placement of thumb or one or more fingers(digit sucking) in varying depths into the mouth of the oral cavity.

There are many reasons for thumb sucking in Children. Let’s explore them in detail.

Reasons for Thumb Sucking in Kids – Ways to Your Little Thumb

Most of the children indulge in thumb sucking habit. But some of them don’t.

The reasons for thumb sucking in kids can be any of the below ones:

  • In high socioeconomic status, the mother is in a better position to feed the baby and the baby’s hunger is satisfied in a short time. Whereas in the low socioeconomic group, mothers are unable to provide sufficient breast milk to their infants. Hence in the process, the infants suckle intensively for a long time thereby exhausting the sucking urge. This theory explains the increased incidence of thumb sucking in industrialized areas when compared to rural areas.
  • The sucking habits are commonly observed to be present in children with working parents. This is because such children are brought up in the hands of a caretaker and thereby develops a feeling of insecurity.
  • The development of this habit can be related to the number of siblings. As the number increases, the attention meted out by the parents to the child gets divided. A child who feels neglected by the parents may attempt to compensate his feelings of insecurity by means of this habit.
  • The sibling ranks in the family also serve as a deciding factor. Greater rank implies the chance of having an oral habit.
  • Thumb sucking is seen to be more frequent among breastfed children. Yet abrupt weaning from the bottle or breast has also been hypothesized to contribute to acquiring an oral habit. A negative relation is also seen between breastfeeding and the development of dummy or finger sucking.

The Time of Emergence of the Habit

The Time of appearance of digit sucking habit has a great significance. It can arise during any of these stages of a baby life:

  • In the neonates – The feeling of insecurity related to primitive demands like hunger can emanate thumb sucking.
  • During the first few weeks of life –  The habit may appear due to feeding problems.
  • During the eruption of primary teeth – Thumb sucking may be used to relieve teething.
  • Still later – Children use the habit for the release of emotional tension which they are unable to cope. They take refuge in regressing to an infantile behavior pattern.

Non-Nutritive Sucking habits(NNS) – Do my child have to go cold turkey?

The one thought that will be pestering you all the time is, ‘How do I get my child to stop sucking her thumb?’

Digit Sucking/Thumb Sucking habit disappears spontaneously around 2 years of age with good parental care. No active intervention and only observation is required if the child has grown out of the habit at least by the third year and has a normal occlusion.

When the habit continues beyond three years of age, the optimal time for intercepting is between 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 years.

The desire of the child to discontinue the habit, parental awareness and motivation are the primary goals in managing this condition. Appliances or approaches should not work against children but work along with them.

I will discuss some effective and righteous ways to help your little one stop thumb sucking in my next post. Stay tuned.

Please feel free to post your queries in the comment section. I will answer them as early as possible.

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Image Credits :  Main image by elstudio via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND ; Sucking in Babies by JasonUnbound via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC ;

Note : Added text to the original images


About Dr Uma Maheswari N, Pediatric Dentist

Dr Uma Maheswari N BDS., MDS., is an accomplished Pediatric Dentist and Professor in the department of Pedodontics and Preventive dentistry in J.K.K. Nataraja Dental College, Tamilnadu. Her interests are always centered around children. Her research areas include Management of dental anxiety in children and she conducts several health intervention programmes. She follows game based techniques to create dental health awareness in children.



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