Sucking vs Pacifiers

I mentioned the disadvantages of pacifiers in my last post and one of the commenters, Mo mentioned pacifiers as a way to prevent sucking. I know a lot of people/parents share this sentiment so I just wanted to quickly post a friend’s thoughts on the topic. Before I post it, I have to say I agree with her that sucking is a way to deal with an emotion. It may be boredom, anxiety, hunger or tiredness. All of these emotions can be addressed in proper ways thus eliminating the need to suck.

There are also other things the child can suck on which do not feel like a nipple (from a feeding bottle) and which do not encourage extended use. These include teething rings/toys and cloth rattles. However nothing beats a prepared environment which keeps the child occupied and interested and listens to his/her cues and responds before he/she has to resort to sucking.

I observed a boy today. He sucks his fingers on both hands. After watching him sucking intently in his bouncer (I think that’s what it is called but its one of the seats that you can buckle the child into), I put him on the floor under the kicking ball which I have mentioned in previous posts. Initially he was kicking involuntarily while sucking and once in a while his leg would make contact with the ball. Eventually he realized he was kicking the ball and causing it to move and therefore causing the attached bell to ring. He stopped sucking and started focusing on the ball while trying to control his kicking and make contact with the ball every time. He was so focused on controlling his legs and watching the ball that he forgot about his fingers for the close to 20 minutes I watched him for. Another child started crying and distracted him and he went back to his fingers. This told me that when he was focused on something, the need to suck disappeared albeit temporarily. I have a video of the boy and the scenario I just described but I would need to get permission to share it. Anyways here are my friend Pilar’s thoughts on sucking vs. pacifiers. She blogs over at The Full Montessori.

To provide some background, Pilar shared  an article about Thumb sucking vs. pacifiers which I unfortunately can’t locate now and I sent her a message which she replied to. See the conversation below!

Me to Pilar: 

This message is about your post on the pacifier vs thumb article. I understand the disadvantages of the pacifier and I am completely against it but why is the thumb ok? I know people who suck as adults and It affects their teeth and causes embarrassment. To be honest I’m not sure what my reaction will be to thumb-sucking but the idea scares me. I know I cringe a little when mums happily say their child found his/her thumb. Please let me know what your thoughts are.

Pilar’s response:

I totally agree that there are issues with thumb-sucking, as I know someone who sucked his thumb into adulthood and destroyed his entire mouth in the process. However, when a child is past the age of 2 or 3 and is still sucking his thumb, there’s a clear psychological issue that has to be addressed. At that point, it becomes a symptom of something else and a crutch for a child who was never taught to manage his stress.

When a baby uses his fingers to self-soothe, he’s responding to a need. Even Dr. Montanaro says that sucking is a need that infants have. Because babies don’t have language or life experience, they can’t identify their emotions, so they need a soothing mechanism. Of course, our responsibility as parents and educators is to give them the emotional coping skills so that little by little they develop other tools with which to deal with the issues that cause them stress or anxiety.

I had students who wouldn’t suck their thumb all day in school, but the moment they got in the car with the parent they would stick their thumb in their mouth. The child is speaking volumes with his actions, we just need to understand what he’s saying!

If there were a way of letting the baby choose when to use a pacifier and letting him control the use, then it would be a great thing… But that’s pretty hard to do. What I try to do with Zach is to give him things to manipulate when he’s bored. This way, he won’t satiate boredom with finger sucking. I can tell when he’s anxious because the fingers go right into his mouth, so as he grows and begins to understand language I will help him identify and deal with the emotions so he doesn’t have to use the fingers as a crutch.

Gee, I think I just wrote a whole blog post.  Honestly, it was SUCH a relief when Zach found his fingers! He stopped crying uncontrollably and was even able to soothe himself back to sleep! I know finger-sucking is not ideal, but I really feel it beats the pacifier because the child is in control of when and how often he uses it. And that’s really what it’s about, right?

What do you think? Please contribute to the conversation. 

I’ll be back with new posts on supporting development over the easter break!

Live a GoodLife!

Nduoma

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2 thoughts on “Sucking vs Pacifiers

  1. I feel thumb/ finger sucking is a soothing. Mechanism ….peharps reassurance?!… or pain re teething! !
    I remember introducing a pacifier to my son @ 2wks old to soothe him while I changed his nappy! (He was extremely fussy during nappy changes) and he used to just spit it out and continued wailing ! ! It was really stressful! I eventually started singing to him during nappy changes and noticed he put his fingers into his mouth…while listening to me…

    8months on, he “understands” what is going on during nappy changes and “cooperated”
    I felt he used his fingers to simply soothe himself during the ‘stressful’ situation…
    My thoughts are, as long as the baby isn’t constantly sucking on his thumb/fingers and only during ‘stressful periods’ its their own way of soothing themselves for the time being ?

    1. Hello Chika,
      I completely agree with you. Thank you for your wonderful example of identifying the child’s emotion and addressing it properly. Singing is definitely soothing during stressful situations even for adults. You just gave me an idea for another post! Now I just need to find time.

      Thanks as always for your input. Live a good life.

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