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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Weaning from Finger Sucking

When I had Kye I offered him a paci before he was even 14 days old. I was a true first time mom. I knew nothing about parenting and was totally and completely guessing my way through every decision I made. He quickly became attached to the pacifier and was a "paci baby." It was a sleep prop for him and I had a hardcore love/hate relationship with the thing. However, when it came time to wean from the pacifier, it was a smooth transition for us. (Weaning from the Pacifier)

Even though I knew I'd handle the pacifier differently with future children, I still planned to use them as I did not want a finger sucker. Then Britt came along. I introduced the pacifier with her at times when Babywise recommends it (as a tool for sleep training rather than a prop). She just didn't take to it very well. She would suck it super super hard and it'd leave a big mark on her face and she'd spit it out. As soon as she weaned from swaddling, her fingers went in her mouth. 


While I would never have chosen for Britt to suck her fingers, I had very little choice in the matter. She quickly fell in love with them and also slept SO soundly with them. The thing I hated most about the paci, having to re-insert it when it fell out, wasn't an issue with the fingers. She could put them back in her mouth herself. They were a sleep prop, but they were one that was attached to the child. If she needed to nap in the car, boom the finger sucking made it happen with ease. 

She sucked her fingers not only for sleep but also for comfort. For Britt, finger sucking was soothing and comforting. When she was teething she'd suck on her fingers and the pain would seem less for her. Britt was my best sleeper to date. I believe that the finger sucking really helped her be such a good sleeper! 

Britt was not only my best sleeper, but she was also my most whiney, hard to calm child. The fingers helped me out big time with that. If she got upset she had a comfort object attached to her body that could provide her with the ability to soothe herself. 

When Kye was a baby I HATED the paci. When Britt was a baby, I actually LOVED the finger sucking. 



The problem with the fingers came as Britt grew older. How do you possibly get a kid to stop sucking their fingers?!?! With the paci, there are a billion ways to wean from it. It's an object that can be taken away. We only allowed Kye to have it in his crib at times of sleep. We couldn't limit Britt's fingers to her bed! As the kids both grew into toddlers my feelings on their sleep props switched. As a toddler, the paci was a breeze. Kye could get it in his crib if it fell out and it helped him sleep and we just limited it to the crib. It was also very easy to take away when the time came. With Britt though, the fingers were more of an issue as a toddler. Sure, she still slept great. But we started noticing damage to her fingers as well as her teeth. We also couldn't force her to limit sucking to her bed. So we had the issue of her sucking her fingers whenever she was upset or tired outside of the bed as well. What is cute, or at least tolerable, with a baby is much less cute, and pretty gross, as a kid gets older. 

(feb 21st, 2015...last photo of Britt sucking her fingers)

My biggest mistake with Britt's finger sucking was assuming I should just treat the habit like I treated the pacifier. With the pacifier our pediatrician recommended waiting until age 2 to wean from it. He said that by then Kye would be able to understand and reason better and that it'd make the transition easier on us all. I agree, as it was very easy. I assumed Britt's fingers would be the same way so I just didn't worry about it until she turned 2.

Hindsight being what it is...I would now recommend to anyone with a finger sucker to start from early-on with "weaning" from it. Before Britt could really communicate I just let her suck her fingers whenever and wherever. I felt bad taking them out of her mouth and felt like she didn't really understand what I meant by it. I knew it helped comfort her with teething or upset feelings or when she was sleepy so I just let her suck them. I wish I would have known from early on to start simply taking them out of her mouth and saying "only in the bed." I think the gentle reminders would have helped her wean from them easier and sooner.

I also will go ahead and say if you can avoid having a finger sucker, then avoid it. I've now had a pacifier baby, a finger sucking baby, and a comfort object baby. Guess which one is my favorite? Comfort object for the win baby!!! Sure, it's a GREAT idea to simply say "my baby will not be a finger sucker." But guess what? Sometimes it's not in your control. And Britt's love of her fingers? It wasn't in mine!

When Britt turned 1 we started gently telling her "no fingers" when she would suck them out of the crib. We didn't make a big deal about it. We didn't punish her for it. We didn't talk negatively or down to her about it. We just simply would say "no fingers."

Once she got closer to turning 2 we talked a lot about only sucking fingers in the bed. We'd remind her that big girls don't suck their fingers. And when we'd see her sucking them we'd remind her "no sucking." It worked great. She was VERY responsive to the gentle reminding. She's usually say "oops sorry!" and take them out right away.

When she turned 2 we took it a step further and if she insisted on sucking them then we'd tell her she had to go in her bed to do so. She would usually go sit in her bed if she was upset or tired so she could suck her fingers. The gentle reminders still worked great but it was still something that she needed reminding of a lot. I'm talking like multiple times a day we'd have to say "no fingers Britt." Or usually we could even just say "Brrrrritt" and she'd realize she had them in her mouth.

I did a lot of research about weaning from finger sucking. I asked a lot of people about it and was surprised by the responses I got. So many of the ways people weaned their children, or were weaned themselves as children, just sounded SO mean to me. I felt discouraged and concerned about how I could help Britt wean from the bad habit without doing so in a mean, negative way.

I knew I wanted her to be done sucking them by age 3. When she started school in August (2 ½ years old) she was rarely sucking her fingers outside of the bed. The gentle reminders worked great and she'd take them out right away with no issues. Never complaining about it or anything. We told her teacher and she was also supportive in enforcing at school what we were working on at home.

We talked a lot to Britt about turning 3 and how it was the magical age that she'd need to stop sucking her fingers. In November ( a month before she turned 3) I got REALLY hopeful and excited. Britt LOVED wearing gloves so I talked to her about wearing them to sleep. Hello...no finger sucking if you have gloves on haha.


You can read more about what happened here. But basically it worked great! She didn't suck her fingers at night or during naps when wearing the gloves. I made a huge production out of it. Praised her like crazy. Let her sleep with an extra friend (Donald). Called G-Mama to tell her how awesome she did. Gave her treats when she woke up if she still had the gloves on. Etc etc.

It lasted 5 days and then Britt was over it and didn't want to wear the gloves anymore. I didn't force her to wear them because, hello, she could just take them off when we left the room. But I didn't want to stop the momentum we had going with her about it. I REALLY wanted her to be DONE sucking them by her 3rd birthday and it was only a few short weeks away!

I ordered The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Habit and we started reading it a LOT. It is a GREAT book about bad habits and it helped Britt understand that sucking her fingers wasn't something she should be doing. We continued to talk about how she's a big girl and shouldn't suck her fingers etc.



I also ordered Mavala Stop . It's recommended by our dentist, my dental hygienist friends, and other parents. It's a paint that you put on to help stop bad habits like finger sucking but also nail biting. It has a bitter taste and is supposed to discourage the habit. I did not want to use it as a punishment. Instead I tried to use the book to help make Britt want to stop sucking. I finally convinced her to say she didn't want to suck them anymore because she wanted to be a big girl. She was okay with me using the solution on her fingers. I was super positive, praised her a ton etc. Put her down for nap and watched her on the monitor as she sucked it all off. Like all of it. And I had put it ALL over BOTH of her fingers.

At the same time as all of this we still were continuing to gently remind her if she sucked her fingers outside of the bed. Whereas before she was always happy to remove her fingers...she then started to resist. It became a WAY bigger issue. We'd remind her and she'd suck on them more. She'd do it as an act of defiance rather than comfort. It became a battle zone. Which is exactly what I didn't want to happen with it. I wasn't about to start punishing her every time she sucked them and nothing seemed to be working to help her to stop. 

I talked to Zach and decided to just stop. I didn't want to push it. I didn't want to battle with it. I just wanted to go back to the gentle reminders outside of the bed and her responding so well to that. I didn't like that her fingers were getting damaged. I worried about the damage to her teeth. But sucking them in her bed was just something we were going to have to be okay with for awhile. Her first dentist appointment was set for April so I decided to hold off on trying anything else until then. 

While we stopped all major efforts, we still continued to talk about her fingers a lot. We talked to her about how big girls don't suck them, even for sleep. We showed her them and the damage she was doing to them. I even took her in the bathroom and explained what would happen to her teeth if she kept sucking. I let her know it was HER DECISION and that I was here to help her whenever she was ready. 

On March 1st Britt woke up in the morning and I sat with her and had her look at her fingers. They were WHITE from being sucked on for so long in the night. They had blisters and the tips of her fingers were beginning to come to a point. The nails were soft and curving. The dr said to expect skin to come off of them. I talked to her about all of this and she got VERY upset by how her fingers looked. She said she didn't want to suck them anymore. 


You can really see how the fingers come to a point at the tips in the comparison photo (the ones on the right are the ones she sucks on)


I showered and showered her with praise for her big girl decision. I printed out a blank calendar to use as her sticker chart and I told her after each nap she'd get a sticker and each morning she'd get a sticker as long as she didn't suck her fingers. She could also pick out a friend to sleep with her (I feel like having a new sleep buddy would be a good distraction to the finger sucking!) and as long as she didn't suck fingers anymore, she could sleep with an extra friend every time she went to bed. 

I told her once the chart was filled with stickers that she could have ANYTHING she wanted. Literally I would have gotten her anything at that point haha. She said she wanted a cookie. Yes, that's how deprived our kids are of junk food haha. We talked about the chart and made ALL kinds of plans for what we'd do when it was full. We agreed: a PARTY was in order. 

At this same time we were celebrating Kye's birthday. I really, really think she wanted to stop sucking her fingers so she could have more attention on her. She focused on her "finger sucking celebration" more than his birthday haha. It was a clever tactic ;) 

To help remind Britt not to suck her fingers we bought a box of bandaids. She got one at nap and another one at night. Sometimes it'd stay on all day, but usually it'd fall off at some point so she'd always need a new one when it was time to sleep. Getting to see what bandaid it'd be was fun and it kept the focus positive. She liked wearing the bandaids!


While I was SO proud of her for making the decision to stop sucking her fingers...I zero percent got my hopes up about it. I mean I had been super mega pumped about the November weaning attempt and it failed after 5 days. I predicted that this, too, would be short lived. 

Instead though Britt totally shocked me. She was motivated and determined and never ONCE sucked her fingers again. NOT ONCE. Not in her bed. Not outside of the bed. No gentle reminders needed. She was DONE. 

Words cannot even begin to describe the pride I have for her! She did this completely and totally on her own. How much willpower does that take?!?! Zach joked that finger sucking is harder to quit than smoking and he's probably right haha. Her "drug of choice" was physically attached to her body! Can you imagine trying to quit doing something that is attached to you? The temptation is there ALL day EVERY day. Yet she resisted!

We taped her sticker chart to her bed. She loved to look at it and I'd watch her on the monitor as she'd count the squares left to fill. We were so caught off guard by her decision that we weren't prepared at all so Zach went and got some star stickers as well as the bandaids we used. It took an entire box of bandaids before the chart was filled and at that point we stopped using them. She never complained about the bandaids being gone and has not had ONE incident of finger sucking! 




The hardest part of the weaning process was her ability to fall asleep. I felt bad because she really struggled. She was used to sucking her fingers until she went to sleep but since she didn't have that ability anymore she didn't sleep well at naps. Most naps she wouldn't sleep at all. It was a struggle and my easiest sleeping child has become my most difficult one for the time being. I know it'll just take an adjustment for her but she really resists bedtime in a way she never has before. As long as she stays in the bed and is quiet, I don't mind if she doesn't sleep. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink, right? Can't make her close her eyes and sleep! It wasn't as much of an issue at night, but for naps she usually wouldn't fall asleep until like 2:00 (she goes down at 1:00) and then would sleep until almost 5 when I'd have to wake her. 



Once her chart was filled we planned a big event for her! The kids and I decided to make a cookie cake for her celebration. I found this recipe for monster bars and wanted to try it out. The kids and I made them together!


On the day of her party Britt wanted to dress up like Elsa. Can you tell she was so thrilled to have an evening all about her...especially when so much of the month had been about her brother's birthday? Haha


SO proud of my BIG GIRL!


In just the few weeks since Britt had quit sucking I could already see a difference in her fingers as well as her teeth. Her dr and dentist both said that it won't be long before we'll never even know she was a finger sucker!



We got Zaxbys for dinner and even ate in the dining room :)




G-Mama came by and got Britt the most beautiful, special locket as a gift for her status as an official BIG GIRL!


I also wanted to give Britt a special gift. I entered a contest for a giveaway on Instagram and actually WON. I was so shocked because I never win stuff!!! I won a CUSTOM Shining Light Doll! I got to help in the whole process of the design. She's handmade and beautiful. What's even more neat is that they are all done by someone who lives here locally! If you are local you can shop from the Shining Light Doll selection in downtown Hahira at Monkey Britches Boutique which just opened this past month! You can also order your custom doll on Etsy or browse the designs on Facebook! It's SUCH a special gift to give and Britt has loved her doll so much :) She named her Angel!






I could NOT be prouder of Britt and her decision to stop sucking her fingers. While she made this decision on her own, I do think that all of our efforts helped her to reach this moment. I was especially thankful that she was fully weaned from sucking them before her first dentist visit! My goal was to have her done by age 3 and she was 3 years and 3 months when she broke the bad habit. It was FOR SURE worth the wait for her to have such a positive experience with the weaning process. 

If I ever have a finger sucker again I will start saying "no fingers" at an earlier age and enforcing a no finger sucking out of the bed rule also at an earlier age. I will also read the Bad Habits book and talk it up as a bad habit early on. I think though that patience paid off here. I think talking and reminding and being honest about the effects that sucking was having on her body is what made the difference for Britt. Regardless of all methods you can use to wean from sucking fingers...it's something that the child truly does have to do on their own. I'm thankful I didn't allow it to cause me a bunch of stress and I'm thankful we didn't punish her or shame her for it. Letting her take the lead paid off in the long run and I'm just SUPER thankful that the finger sucking days are DONE in our house (and crossing fingers that baby #4 someday is NOT a finger sucker!). 

Have you had a finger sucker? What are your tips for weaning? 

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