80% of small children suck their thumb. It's a habit that begins in the third month of their lives and usually finishes when they reach 3 or 4 years old but, why do it? There are many explanations: some specialists refer to the Freudian theory of psychological development which states that the child would be in the phase of oral discovery of the world; others say that it's due to behaviour linked to anxiety and they are searching for the comfort and tranquillity that they find in suction while feeding or with a dummy; others say that it is purely due to boredom...
Whatever the reason, we repeat; it's a result of something normal, a habit that starts to waiver when the child reaches around 3 years old. But, what happens if it doesn't stop? In the long run sucking your thumb can affect the gums and muscles in the mouth leading to deformations of the palate and even future speech problems.
How can parents tackle this problem? We have insisted on this idea many times, but it's fundamental that the habit is not treated like a defect but rather a contingency that we will help them to overcome: you have to encourage and motivate them to stop the habit. Some specialists believe that it is suitable to follow 'a plan' of incentives, to award a prize when the child achieves control of the impulse after one or two weeks.
There are also cases which require a more complex solution. In this case the specialist recommends the old trick of covering the thumb with something with an unpleasant taste. We stress that it was the doctor who recommended this treatment: I am sure that there are very effective home remedies but we're unsure as to how this can affect the child in the long term or if the substance recommended to us by an acquaintance will damage the teeth or even stomach of the child.
This isn't the only remedy: there are also treatments that use orthodontic devices (effective short-term but quite aggressive) and even psychological, like the change of behaviour. We won't say the same thing: at all times you have to seek the advice of a specialist, and even get a second opinion. It's very likely that we are creating a complicated problem that has a simple solution.