We finally managed to get rid of our daughter’s pacifier! However, We’ve noticed that she is sucking on her thumb and fingers now. How can we help?
This is a common predicament. The most important thing is to anticipate when your daughter will suck her fingers and why she will do so. Is she hungry? Bored? Tired? All three?
If she is hungry, try giving her hard, crunchy or chewy foods (e.g., vegetables cut into strips, raisins, pretzels). Encourage her to chew the food “on the side” (on the molars) to give input to her temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The TMJ was soothed by the pacifier, now we need to provide a substitution. Gum chewing, when the jaw stays in alignment, can effectively provide this input as well.
If your daughter is tired but it’s not an appropriate time to nap, turn on the music and encourage jumping jacks, toe touches, rolling on the floor, playing catch/rollie pollie, stretching, yoga, dancing, etc. The worst thing to do is to plop her in front of the television, which would probably encourage thumbsucking.
If she’s bored, try to have art activities like these on hand – they will keep little fingers busy (please note that these suggestions contain small parts and should be used with caution/supervision only):
- Lite Brite
- Small Pop beads
- Magnetic Sets
- Wikki Stix
- Stringing beads or dried pasta – make a noodle necklace!
- Legos, Duplos, Quatros
- Practicing fasteners (buttons, snaps, buckles, zippers)
- Playing with playdoh, silly putty
- Gluing dry rice or macaroni – make a collage
- Cutting – make sure her thumb stays facing upwards
- Hole punchers
- Lacing cards
- Finger painting
Some parents find this thumb guard helpful.
In speech therapy, sometimes specific oral-sensory-motor exercises can be used based on your child’s needs. These tasks may include massage, vibration, and resistance exercises.
When parents inquire about articulation therapy, and their child is thumbsucking (or using a pacifier), I typically recommend eliminating thumbsucking before starting articulation treatment. Thumbsucking will work against our efforts in therapy, and you may see spontaneous improvement once the habit ends.
I work with children in their NYC (Upper East Side) homes and can be contacted at 646-295-4473 or email@example.com.