We’ve all seen a child suck their thumb, whether it’s at bedtime, on the way home from school, or while lost in thought. But why is this behavior so prevalent among children? In most cases, what appears to be a thumb sucking habit may actually be linked to a phenomenon called transient object attachment (TOA). In this blog post, we’ll explore ATO and how parents can better understand this phenomenon when it comes to their children and why they suck their thumbs. If you are looking for an answer to the question of why your child has been sucking his thumb for years, come with us to find out!

How to explain the phenomenon of children who suck their thumbs?

Transient attachment to an object (TOA) is a phenomenon in which a child becomes attached to an object or activity for its entire duration. An example of ATO is children sucking their thumbs. This behavior is most common in the first two years of life and can be seen in children as young as four weeks old. Thumb sucking is thought to have several functions, including comforting and stimulating growth and development.

Thumb sucking can be explained by the psychodynamic concept of oral stage fixation, which states that when an infant’s needs are not adequately met during the oral stage of development (0-18 months), he may fixate on certain activities, including thumb sucking, and thus satisfy these needs in an unhealthy way.

Several researches have endorsed the reality behind this behavior.

In fact, studies have shown that children who change caregivers frequently, such as those who live in orphanages or foster homes, are more likely to develop thumb-sucking habits than those who have a more consistent caregiver.

Research has also suggested that thumb sucking has psychological benefits for babies and young children at this critical stage in their development. For example, it can help them manage stress and provide them with emotional comfort by lowering their level of arousal and allowing them to relax. Additionally, it promotes self-awareness and encourages exploration through the tactile sensations associated with touching their mouths and lips.

It’s also important to note that, although thumb sucking is common in young children, it usually stops on its own between the ages of two and five. However, if parents are concerned about prolonged or excessive thumb sucking behavior after this time, professional intervention may be required. Ultimately, it seems that transient attachment to an object through thumb sucking can be explained as a way for babies to ensure that their psychological needs are met during this key stage of growth and development.

What could be the causes of prolonged sucking in children over 5?

Prolonged sucking in children over 5 can have a variety of causes, and it is important to identify the underlying causes to ensure that appropriate interventions can be put in place. Both psychological and physical causes should be considered when exploring the potential origins of prolonged sucking.

On a psychological level:

Prolonged sucking can stem from issues related to emotional insecurity or stress. If a child has experienced a disruption or trauma in their life, they may become attached to activities such as thumb sucking as a form of comfort and security. Additionally, some research suggests that thumb sucking can give young children a sense of control and autonomy in an environment where they feel helpless.

From a physical point of view:

Prolonged sucking in older children can also be attributed to anatomical abnormalities or even allergies. For example, if a child’s upper teeth are close together and slightly misaligned, the tongue may naturally press against them when at rest, resulting in unconscious and permanent sucking behavior if left untreated. Allergies can also affect the way a child breathes through their nose, causing them to breathe through their mouth, which could contribute to prolonged sucking habits if left unchecked.

Beyond the psychological and physiological sources of prolonged sucking, bad habits are another factor that should not be overlooked. A child may simply find enjoyment in the activity itself and continue doing it even after it is no longer needed for comfort or safety reasons. It is therefore important for parents to play an active role in helping their children break bad habits they have acquired over time which may contribute to prolonging the tendency to thumb sucking beyond the age of 5 years.

What can you do to help your child stop sucking his thumb?

Be respectful.

When talking to your child about thumb sucking, squat below eye level. This position helps children feel respected. And use only positive and sympathetic words, focusing on your child’s behavior, not on him.

Find a comforting substitute.

Many children suck their thumb when they feel a little uncomfortable or need reassurance. If this sounds familiar, help your child find a calming new habit to fill that need. A cuddly toy usually does wonders in this case. In addition to offering a cuddly toy at the usual thumb-sucking moments, keep an eye on your child. If you spot him sucking his thumb without thinking, go ahead and give him his comforter.

Talk about consequences.

No, no punishment! If your toddler is older, explain to him that sucking his thumb can have negative consequences on his teeth, speech and skin. After all, your little one probably has no idea that thumb sucking might be a bad idea. You can always ask your child’s pediatrician to support you during a check-up to better dissuade your child from giving up his habit.

Start small.

If your child sucks his thumb at different times of the day, try to restrict this behavior slot by slot. For example, if your child tends to suck his thumb at nap time and story time, allow him to keep this habit (for a little longer!) only at story time. This gradual change can make the overall goal easier to achieve.

Chat for good.

When you know your child is within earshot, whisper out loud to another person (or even a stuffed animal) how proud you are that your child is trying to kick their thumb-sucking habit ( children are more likely to believe compliments overheard than those given directly to them). Repeat the same compliment to someone else later to keep your child motivated.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.