According to the notes in Claire’s babybook, on March 3, 2006, Claire discovered her thumb. By March 8, 2006, she was waking up with it in her mouth. By March 30th, her 4-month birthday, she had no interest in her pacifier.
(Keep in mind that I didn’t want Claire using a pacifier. Oddly enough, on the second day home from the hospital, in the middle of a 3am crying session – hers and mine – I changed my mind, and the only one Claire would take was the one the hospital sent home with us. And, she would only use that specific kind. The day my hubby came home to find me boiling the only one we had because I’d accidentally thrown it away in the kitchen trash was the day I found them online and bought two more of them. Dear Soothie™, I loved you, and you saved my life, but I don’t miss you.)
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Claire and her thumb
And, so began the relationship of Claire and her thumb. When I told our pediatrician she was sucking her thumb, and asked him if we should try to curb the behavior, he relieved my fears. He said that the self-soothing mechanisms were great, and that by the time any permanent damage would be done, we could redirect her. We could wean her off her thumb later.
I took a big sigh of relief and focused my energies elsewhere. I looked at the bright side. I never had to fumble around in the dark for a pacifier that had fallen out of the crib. Never did I have to pick up a pacifier off of the dirty restaurant floor or have to turn inside out while trying to reach her pacifier from the front seat of the car. Her thumb was always there. It was there if she needed it. It made my job easier, and it made her happy….two things at the top of my list.
When she turned two, I talked to the pediatrician about it again. He said that two-yr olds really don’t have the mental capacity to stop a habit like this yet, so hold off on fighting that battle. I was okay with that answer. We started reminding her that she wouldn’t need to suck her thumb…eventually. You know, when you’re a big girl! Slowly we started implementing little rules. You can only suck your thumb in your car seat or your bed.
It seemed to work, for the most part, but we really didn’t pressure her. Most of the time a simple reminder, “Oh my gosh! Where are you supposed to suck your thumb? Are you in your bed? Are you in your car seat?” would suffice, but if she was really agitated or tired, she’d pop that left thumb in her mouth and use her right hand to caress her hair. I’d remind myself that she was still my baby. It was still too early to worry about it. I knew it would all work out.
When she turned three, I knew we’d have our work cut out for us. Now was the time to really focus on the project at hand. I’d decided to talk to the pediatrician again to see what his ideas were. At her well-visit, he had awesome ideas. One that really stood out was establishing the Fingernail Polish Reward. If she could stop sucking her thumb, she could pick out (and wear!!) her very own fingernail polish. Her eyes lit up when he said that, and I could tell that was the way to go.
He then got down on her level and looked her straight in the eye. “Claire, do you know why you shouldn’t suck your thumb anymore?” he asked her.
“No…” she hesitated.
“You are a big girl now! And, big girls don’t suck their thumbs! And, here are the three reasons! The first one? There could be germs on your thumb, and if you put your thumb in your mouth, you could get sick. The second reason? You could hurt your thumb. It could get dried and cracked and even bleed.”
Claire looked at both of us with wide eyes.
“That actually happened last year, Claire. And the year before. Do you remember that?” I asked her. I reminded her of how hard it was to keep her thumb from cracking and bleeding in the winter.
“And the third reason,” Dr. B. said, still looking at Claire, “is that you could move your teeth. You could ruin your pretty smile, and we don’t want that to happen.”
He repeated the three reasons and had her repeat them, too. She got the answers right, and she was so proud of herself.
I told him that we were going to her first dentist appointment in a couple weeks, and I was sure Dr. J. would say the same things. I told him we’d focus our attention fully onto that plan after that meeting.
Before we left the office, Dr. B. told Claire that she was a big girl, and that he knew she could do it.
He then reminded me that now was the time to start, but it might not happen for a while. “Between three and four” was the target we were aiming for. He gave me good pointers on how to remind her (put a piece of tape on it during the day, etc.), but that we should start slow. It would happen. She’d stop sucking her thumb.
A couple weeks later, we went to Claire’s very first Dentist Appointment. Just as predicted Dr. J. had the same three reasons for Claire to stop sucking her thumb that Dr. B. had!
That night, as we were snuggling on the couch, Claire was telling Daddy about her appointment at the dentist, and we started talking about the appointment we’d had with Dr. B., too, a couple weeks earlier.
“Dr. B. said I could suck my thumb for a little bit longer, Daddy,” Claire said matter-of-factly, hoping Daddy would believe her.
“No, he didn’t,” Daddy said.
“He didn’t?” she asked, knowing he hadn’t. Big alligator tears started to well up in her eyes and fall down her cheeks. “He didn’t say that?”
“No. No, he didn’t. He said you needed to stop it right now. Do you know the three reasons why?”
As we held her, she just sobbed her little heart out. When she was done crying, we all talked about the three reasons.
She wiped her face and looked at Daddy. “Well, Daddy…if Dr. B. said I shouldn’t suck my thumb anymore, then I won’t! I won’t!”
I was amazed at her conviction but happy to hear it.
“Dr. B. said I don’t need to suck my thumb anymore! I’m a big girl!”
And, that night, she didn’t. She didn’t suck it when we kissed her goodnight, and I peeked in on her before I went to bed a few hours later. Her thumb was nowhere near her mouth. In the morning, it was bone dry. Day Number One of the No Thumb-Sucking Project had been a success.
I was shocked and relieved.
In a former life, I was trained as a counselor. I’m very aware of the fact that it typically takes 21 days (or repetitions) to end a habit or change a behavior, and that’s only after you can admit that there’s something that needs to change. I knew that every day we were mostly successful with Claire would be a day closer to complete success.
Every time she’d go to bed, I’d remind Claire about the three reasons for not sucking her thumb, or I’d have her tell me what they were. Then, I’d peek in on her. (Sucking her thumb outside of her bed was non-existent.) There have been a couple naptimes during days that were particularly exhausting that I’d see that pesky thumb, but I’d tiptoe in, remove it from her mouth, and she’d never put it back. At night, she has yet to have a slip.
I couldn’t believe it.
She’d gone cold-turkey. Or, would that be cold-thumb?
By my calculations, she’d gone 23 days without sucking her thumb, so, on Saturday, it was time for the reward.
She had requested a special Cinderella Nail Polish and had been talking about it ever since Project No Thumb-Sucking began. When Claire wasn’t looking, I may or may not have put Cinderella stickers on a brand-new bottle of Sally Hansen™ Diamonds Nail Polish. Shhh, it will be our little secret, okay?
Click photos to enlarge.
Cinderella Fingernail Polish
Momma did the honors while Daddy acted as the paparazzi, capturing the big moment.
The Newest Proud Member of the No Thumb-Sucking Club
I am SO proud to announce that Claire is officially no longer a thumb-sucker! I’ll still remind her of the three reasons to not suck her thumb and still peek in on her, just to be sure we stay on the right track, but it feels so good to know that we’ve made it to the other side.
My favorite part about all this is seeing how excited she gets when we talk about it.
“I don’t have to suck my thumb anymore!” she’ll say. And, she says it like she’s finally free.