Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Fingersucking is very commonly seen in most of the preschoolers. In many kids it is limited to thumb, but other 4 fingers, especially index finger and middle finger are also seen going very often in the mouths.
When infants put their fingers in their mouth, it doesn’t cause anxiety in parents’ minds. But when toddlers and preschoolers do the same, it causes a lot of anxiety and embarrassment in parents. Most of the times children are told not to do so and when children continue to mouth their fingers, it compounds parents’ concerns. Perhaps, if as parents we realize that no mouthing is without any reason, we would be able to look at the reasons before trying to stop the behaviour.
Fingersucking means different things for a foetus, infant and toddler. Many babies are seen putting their fingers in their mouth when they inside the womb. They do it for sheer pleasure. Infants do it to satiate their sucking instincts. That’s why infants who are breastfed less are more prone to sucking their finger. Developmentally, by the time babies start taking solid food, their sucking needs fade and they neither crave for breasts, nor bottles nor fingers. So when a toddler is mouthing his fingers, it’s definitely not developmental and needs to be looked into.

Reasons behind fingersucking during toddlerhood and beyond:
1. Gum pain: some children teethe a little late and might experience a lot of gum pain when new teeth come during toddlerhood, as by then gums are not as soft as they used to be during babyhood. Such children like to press their gums with their fingers to relieve the pain. Since they are not very verbal at this stage, they can’t express the gum -pain and parents mistake mouthing with behavioural issue.
2. Comfort: sucking for milk provided comfort to the tummy and now sucking at anything provides comfort to the psyche. Many children tend to believe in this and put their fingers into their mouth to express their frustrations, hunger, anxiety, anger, and boredom. The act of sucking is sort of self -soothing for them.
3. Regression: in many cases a toddler starts sucking his fingers upon the arrival of his new sibling. This is his way of getting the attention of his mother who seems to be spending a lot of her time with the new baby. The child feels that by acting like an infant again, his mother will love her more as she seems to be loving another infant lately. Children regress to lower levels when growing up looks threatening or when previous stages of development look more attractive and beneficial.

After effects of too much fingersucking:
1. Thickening of the skin of the preferred digit.
2. Skin and nail infections.
3. Stomach infections.
4. Protrusion of front teeth.

Wrong methods to stop the child :
1. putting neem paste on fingers
2. putting band-aids on fingers
3. punishing the child
4. shaming the child

Consult a psychotherapist if you are not sure how to help the child yourself.

(disclaimer: this article was first published for Little Elly- the concept preschool. you can find the article at http://www.littleelly.com/ask-an-expert/common-problem/)

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