The thumb sucking started when Henry was about 4 months old. Shortly thereafter, his little white blankey was added to the comfort ritual and for the first eight years of his life, he hardly went a nap or a night without rubbing his soft blankey under his nose and sucking his thumb to fall asleep. It was tender and darling 'til he was about four. Maybe five? And then we started to wonder if we should intervene - take the blankey? Stop the habit? And when I say we, I mostly mean Nate. I was more inclined to just wait it out -- figuring he'd stop when he was ready. I would say things like, "life is so hard! Can't we just let this little comfort last? He'll grow out of it eventually, why do we have to force it?" He only sucked his thumb at night when he was going to bed, or if he was cozied up at home (ie he didn't suck in public, at school, or in front of friends), so it wasn't super invasive or socially awkward. But Nate was worried about his teeth -- and maybe other things, too? Anyway, we decided to take away the blankey, hoping that would break the thumb-sucking habit as well. It looked promising for a few days, but as soon as Henry discovered that we had a few other blankets in the house with that same sueded fuzzy fabric on them, he just subbed one of those in and went right on sucking. (Nate still has that first little white blankey tucked in the back of his sock drawer...someday we'll give it back to Henry. I wonder if it will hold any sentimental value to him? It sure does for us!)
We tried other things along the way to encourage him to stop - painted his thumbnail with a bitter-tasting polish. Didn't slow him down a bit. Promised him a new toy if he'd quit. To no avail. And then we just decided to drop the issue. His teeth were falling out and growing in just fine (and who are we kidding? Hillbilly, trainwreck, buckwild teeth are in his genes regardless of thumbsucking).
One night in September (while Nate was out of town on a two week business trip to Texas) I had the kids sleeping in my room with me, and noticed that Henry was having a particularly tough time falling asleep. I asked him what was wrong and he said, "nothing's wrong, I just decided to quit sucking my thumb tonight. And it's really hard to fall asleep without doing it."
My heart just about exploded into a million pieces when I came upstairs later that night and saw all the reading material he'd collected around himself to pass the restless time and summon sleep. In the morning I asked him what had made him decide to quit. "well, I was trying to think of one other eight year old sucking their thumb and I couldn't imagine a single one doing it. And I just thought, 'this is ridiculous. I'm quitting.'" And he did. And not to be a braggy mom, but that's how I thought it would happen. I thought it would eventually just bubble up of his own desire and we wouldn't need any external coercion.
We went to Red Robin the next night to celebrate. I told him he could get whatever he wanted. He got a big burger, fries and a milkshake. The waitress suggested he order from the kids menu. He declined. We're about 4 years past the kids menu for that boy! Waitress had her eyebrows raised when she brought out the food...I knew he'd eat it all. He did.
|trying on Mimi's glasses at RedRobin|
Those first few nights were hard. He would make sure all the fuzzy things were out of his bed so he "wouldn't be tempted" :) And he'd be up late tossing and turning, trying to fall asleep. But, as it goes with most hard things, it got easier. I haven't asked him recently, but I would guess that he hardly thinks about sucking his thumb anymore. Now we look at puppy pictures on my phone before bed (to get any scary thoughts out of the kids' heads) and he reads 'til he can't hold his eyes open anymore. And he's feeling strong and empowered for doing something hard and freeing himself from a habit that he didn't want to be tangled up with anymore. Such a good lesson. Such a good boy. I'm guessing he'll spend the rest of his life making similarly hard changes against much more serious consequences than crooked teeth and a soggy thumb. I hope he'll remember how strong he is. And how good it feels to win.