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Go Away

By Heather Herrick

My 2 1/2 year old sucks her thumb. In my mind, that’s fine. She can suck her thumb for about six more months before I’ll even consider trying to get her to stop doing it in public or anything like that. Maybe because I know there’s no way I’ll really be able to make her do (or not do) anything. However, my husband has decided he’s ready to take this on. A few weeks ago he started telling her about germs and saying, “Yucky. Our fingers are dirty. We don’t want them in our mouth.” At church if he’s holding her on his lap he moves her thumb from her mouth and makes grimace. She usually tries to comply while she’s with him. But when he’s not around, she often explains to me that her thumb is not dirty and after close examination she pops it right into her mouth.

Yesterday we dropped dad off at work and as he got out of the car he said, “Have a good day. Remember not to suck your thumb.” My daughter smiled up, “Okay daddy.”

Later as I tucked her in for an afternoon nap I stood next to the bed asking if she wanted some music on or the fan. She seemed impatient, answering, “No. No.” Then she looked at me with exasperation and said, “Go away and I’ll suck my thumb.”

I laughed initially as I walked away. But it’s been food for thought too. My little one has used this behavior as a comfort since birth, and maybe even before. Now she’s being told that it’s yucky. She formed the habit with no interference and now she has to change it, not because she no longer needs the comfort it offers, but because her dad decided it’s time. (I believe one of his primary motivations is a hope to prevent further orthodontia. IMO the damage is probably already done.) She does want to please her dad, so when he’s around or watching she makes an effort. But when it comes right down to it, she’d rather have the comfort of the familiar. The things her dad knows and what he’s hoping to save her from don’t make sense to her.

I’m not asserting that thumb sucking is as damaging as some of the habits that I have, but the connection of her behavior to mine has stood out clearly. My Father knows things, he tries to teach me and warn me and encourage me. And sometimes, especially when I feel like he’s looking I try really hard, but other times I feel like my daughter, “Go away, so I can choose the comfortable. The thing you’re asking me to do is too hard and I don’t understand.”

So, I’m working on how to do better. And maybe as I figure it out, I’ll know how to help my girl stop sucking her thumb . . . in six months or so.

About Heather Herrick

Heather currently lives in the center of the universe (she’s not being egotistical, it’s true—ask any other New Yorker). She loves NYC, but misses the mountains of Utah where she grew up. Heather and her husband are glad that the baby from her poem now sleeps alone; baby two spoils her mama by having the cutest dimple ever, and hopefully will not become a kicker like her sister.

29 thoughts on “Go Away”

  1. I laughed out loud at "Go away and I'll suck my thumb." What a perfect analogy. I feel like I've been resistant to the changes necessary in my life, with my stubborn insistence to the Lord, "Go away and I'll do what's easiest for me." I appreciate this story. It's food for thought.

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  2. I have a granddaughter who was a serious thumb-sucker. As she approached Kindergarten age her mother talked to her, saying she would need to stop sucking her thumb before she went to school or she would be teased. This weighed heavily on this child until the first day of school when she excitedly reported that there were 3 other thumb-suckers in her class (of 15)! For the record by the time she was in 1st grade she had given it up on her own except at night and a couple of years later it was all gone for good. I'm unpersuaded by the orthodontic argument. It seems that virtually every kid gets braces sooner or later today. It is almost a rite of passage.

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  3. Very interesting. I just figure as long as it's only at sleeping time by the time preschool comes around, no big deal. They do grow out of it (or you buy a thumb shield thing).

    It does seem that we are all at some level still a 2-year old when it comes to obedience to the Lord. Excellent example of a way a lot of us need to mature.

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  4. So many of the things I listen to myself say to my children seem to be answers to my own prayers. I really believe that one of the important reasons we need to be parents is to attempt to understand the mind of God–why and how He loves us and that He does know far more than we do and it is okay to trust Him.

    As for thumb sucking–it's not just orthodontia. My friend is a speech and language pathologist and she tells stories of thumb suckers who come to her with speech problems that she can't even begin to help them fix until they have oral surgery–the thumb sucking changes the shape of your jaw and palate and that affects your mouth's ability to form sounds and speak appropriately. This, thankfully, was never a battle I had to fight. None of my children would suck pacifiers, thumbs, fingers or anything else. I have a nephew that sucked his first two fingers from the womb until he was 3-4. They finally had to put athletic tape on all his fingers until he could break himself of the habit.

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  5. Spot on, Heath. I'm glad you were so open in receiving and sharing this insight. It's beautiful how we can be taught in metaphors and symbols specific to us.

    Check in with an expert if you're worried about the other. Our orthodontist told us not to worry in those first few years. Another bone specialist told me that my daughters thumb sucking helped lower and spread her palate which improved her general mouth formation as well as her ability to speak.

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  6. I didn't have time to find a picture of my girl earlier, so I searched online and found the cute girl I posted a few hours ago. So as not to confuse anyone I updated the post with a picture of my actual thumb-sucker.

    As for the thumb-sucking, I really am not ready to worry about it, but I'm sure there's a plethora of ideas and information out there.

    I'm glad I'm not the only one that this makes sense to. @ Angie f, that's definitely part of what I've been thinking about the last couple of days, how parenting has given me insights into the love, patience and I'm sure frustration that must go into being my spiritual parent.

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  7. Perfect Heather, absolutely perfect. This applies to something that's been on my mind a lot lately, thank you.
    BTW, we have a thumb sucker too. I'm almost positive he sucked it in the womb. . .

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  8. I have also found myself thinking a similar thing; lately I've been feeling guilt as a push my scriptures aside to read a different book before bed. I know I'm not making the best choice, and yet I am choosing what's comfortable…

    My daughter is 7 and still sucks her thumb. She has most of her permanent teeth in front so I am worried about it. Sigh..

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  9. FoxyJ, I sucked mine until I was 7, then gave it up when my grandma promised me 5 dollars or a new dress if I would. I chose the dress. My sister says she got the dress, too, and then went back to sucking her thumb (but she doesn't now . . . )

    I never had any speech pathology issues. I'm not disputing that could happen, but it didn't happen to me.

    My 6-year-old still sucks her thumb at night–probably it's time I found out if she would be motivated by a new dress. And then let her sleep with a sock on her hand until she breaks the habit.

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  10. Great post! I love the analogy. I also know that Heavenly Father presents things for our learning when we are ready for them. If He tried to present something too soon, or if it were forced on us a bit, we wouldn't be up to the challenge. I read a book once that stated right on the first page, "Your toddler will not go to Kindergarten with their blankie." That gave me some perspective with my first. I worried over when was the right time for things. I worried that her teeth were protruding because of the pacifier, and I worried because we didn't potty train her until just after three years. It turns out that she grew out of a lot of things by kindergarten that seemed like they would go on forever. I've found that if I don't stress and don't draw attention to some things, they work themselves out. We did eventually offer our 3.5 year old a new toy that she wanted if she could sleep without her pacifier overnight. We were worried about her teeth. She was nervous, but she understood what was being asked, and she tried it. We went right the next day and got the toy. You have to go with your intuition, but you are right, sometimes it's too soon, and not really necessary, to take some things away. 😉

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  11. Ha! Good analogy. We're struggling with the same thing right now (thumb sucking). Dad's are just so logical aren't they! I have a feeling my daughter will suck her thumb for a long time and no amount of shaming, explaining, begging, bribing will change that.

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  12. I had a good chuckle at your post. It is true that she will find her own way to quit sucking her thumb. I had a niece who was an avid thumb sucker until she went to kindergarten. She decided that after playing on the equipment at recess that her thumb didn't taste very good even after washing her hands. That was the end of the thumb sucking for her. I will admit I haven't seen too many 1st graders sucking their thumb. It is just one of those things that may take some time but eventually when they are ready they will do. And you are right it just may be too soon for her to give it up.

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  13. Zina–

    I sucked my thumb until I was 9 and didn't stop until the intervention of a speech therapist (we had to pin a sock to my pajama sleeve to get me to stop). I did have some orthodontic and speech issues. Which, of course, makes me wonder why I'm not more actively encouraging my daughter to stop. Ahh, parenting is hard 🙂

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  14. A get-ready-for-school dental checkup showed developing mouth problems with our granddaughter. She sucks her thumb in her sleep.
    Referred to an orthodontist who recommended using a sock on the hands (his daughter had used the socks successfully). The orthodontist wanted her to sop sucking the thumbs before he would begin treatment. We found decorative duct tape at a Michael's craft store. It's helping.

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  15. Heather, I'm so that daughter. He keeps trying to get me to trust Him, to let go of my own need to control everything. And I keep falling back into my own comfortable places. Thanks for reminding me that He does know more than I do, stuff I can't even comprehend yet.

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  16. Good post, interesting thoughts.

    You WERE looking for thumb-sucking advice, right? Great! I'd offer that it's important for your husband to make an extra effort to give your daughter positive comments so that her main interactions with daddy aren't negative and thumb-sucking-related.

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  17. My kid didn't take a binky, didn't suck her thumb, but she would put everything in her mouth. She still does. She's 5 now, and we're still working on "nothing in your mouth but food." We even ended up staying overnight at the hospital after she swallowed something that got stuck in her esophogus, and yet she is still doing it.

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  18. I didn't want to have to break my kids of bad habits, so I didn't give my first three binkies or anything. Number 1 chewed his blanket to shreds. Number 2 and Number 3 became thumb suckers, mostly at bedtime. Number 2 eventually quit on his own after I explained to him that there could be long-term effects and left it at that.

    I tried the same thing with Number 3 (a daughter) and I could see her internal struggle. I tried VERY hard to be matter-of-fact and non-judgmental, but who knows.

    When she was 6 1/2, I told her that if she could go three months without sucking her thumb, we would go get pedicures. She did it, marking a chart every day to show her progress. On our way to get the pedicure, I said, "So have you sucked your thumb since accomplishing your goal?" Silence.

    What could I do? We got our pedicures, because she had–after all–accomplished her goal. Then I told her that after working so hard to break a habit–which is a very hard thing for anyone to do–it would be a shame to set herself up to have to break it again. She considered this and decided to give it up for good.

    While I recognize that the message of this post was not about thumbsucking, I felt a need to share my experiences. After all, Heavenly Father guides us and helps us see the wisdom of good choices, but He never forces us. Plus, He is always available to help when we are ready to ask and accept it.

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  19. I sucked my thumb till the age of five and never needed braces. So thumb sucking doesn't necessarily lead to bad teeth. I remembering hating all the people who decided for me that it was time to stop. I just wanted them to leave me alone. Who were they to make those decisions for me?

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