I sucked my thumb until I was 9, and my 25 year old sister still sucks her thumb all the time. She even sucks her thumb at work and at restaurants without even thinking about it. While thumb sucking isn’t brought into adulthood all too often, many kids suck their thumbs when they’re young, and all 5 of us kids did. Why do kids suck their thumbs anyway?
According to Dr. Benjamin Spock at drspock.com, most babies who suck their thumbs will begin doing so before 6 months of age, and their thumb sucking is almost entirely related to hunger. Babies suck their thumbs for the reminder of nursing or feeding on a bottle. However, he claims, after 6 months of age a baby who sucks its thumb is doing so purely for comfort.
Most children end thumb sucking by 3 or 4 years of age, Dr. Spock claims, mainly due to self-awareness of other children who do not suck their thumbs and gentle coaxing to stop by their parents. Most children at these ages are beginning to explore the world of grown-up activity and mimicry, and begin to lose interest in sucking their thumbs when they begin to realize that thumb sucking is “for babies”.
However, children who continue to suck their thumbs at an older age (such as how I was, quitting sucking my thumb at 9) do so due to the habit and craving of the comfort thumb sucking brings. Many children enjoy sucking their thumbs the same way another child enjoys cuddling with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, and thumb sucking brings a lot of ease and comfort for a child who has not yet kicked the thumb sucking habit.
Most children eventually quit sucking their thumbs on their own, after observing many other children their own age who don’t suck their thumbs, or after being ridiculed for their habit. Gentle reminders from parents to pull their thumbs out of their mouths helps to wean older children off of the habit. My parents had my 4th grade teacher gently reprimand me in class whenever she caught my thumb in my mouth, and eventually it became too much effort to hide my thumb sucking from her and my parents, and the habit faded.
Occasionally, thumb sucking does make its way into adulthood, as is the case with my sister, who is 25 years old and continues to suck her thumb like everybody is missing out on something great. She claims that it just relaxes her, and is such an ingrown habit she doesn’t even realize she does it half of the time, getting caught at work with her thumb in her mouth and getting a laugh out of her coworkers.
For me, thumb sucking is actually an easy habit to get back into, as well. On rare occasions, my thumb will find its way into my mouth, usually while I am curled up in a fleece or fuzzy blanket while watching TV, and it’s amazing how my thumb still fits into that groove in the top of my mouth and I just start sucking my thumb like I never quit. It weirds my fiance out when I do this, and I don’t even really notice that I’m doing it. But I can definitely see why children suck their thumbs- it really is a comforting, relaxing thing to do. Even if it is for babies.
my sister (who still sucks her thumb at 25)
my personal experience