SILVER SPRING, MD. — First came pacifiers. I was a new mom and I'd heard friends tell about the advantages of these devices for babies. Unfortunately, mine didn't take to them. And before long, this little baby, Child No. 1, began taking great interest in her left thumb.
Child No. 2 came along and also found her thumb tasted much better than any rubber pacifier.
Toddlers often suck on something, so when my two would put this extremity in their mouths, I didn't make a big deal out of it. But as they got to be three and five years of age, I started to wonder how we could stop this practice.
I had heard of mothers who had daubed the thumb with a bad-tasting substance - like Tabasco sauce -to discourage their thumb-suckers. I wasn't sure if that was the right thing for my children. I talked to friends and other mothers about my concern, and I prayed, too.
When we visited friends or traveled in the car, I guess I was embarrassed by their practice as they got older so I made a rule: "No thumb-sucking in the car or at friends' houses." They were obedient. But at night or during nap time, the digit went back into the mouth.
Still, their obedience in public told me that they were ready to give up this proclivity, but it also caused me to want to work with them on this and be patient.
To help my five-year-old conquer this on her own, I suggested that she wear a glove on her thumb-sucking hand at night. That didn't work. She would take it off after she went to bed and do what she'd always done.
When the children reached 4 and 6, with the oldest finishing kindergarten, my patience for this practice was wearing thin.
And then, at a dinner party, the solution finally came from another mother, who hadn't been successful in curbing this habit in her own littlest one. But when her eldest spoke with the younger child about it, the thumb sucking stopped.
The next day I told my six-year-old the story of how thumb sucking had ended in that family. She listened intently. Clearly, the opportunity to take her place as the more mature offspring, who could bring about the kind of change that even Mommy could not achieve, must have resonated with her.
She didn't tell me her plan, but that night my eldest daughter leaned over the side of her upper bunk bed and told her sister below not to suck her thumb.
The little one took her thumb out. When she put it back in, the big sister reminded her again. I don't know what she said or how she said it, but it did work.
The younger was obedient albeit annoyed. For several mornings she complained about her sibling to me, so I guess the big one kept it up. And the habit was vanquished.
In fact, my older daughter stopped too. Apparently, the obligation of teaching her sister worked to reminded her that she didn't need to use her thumb as a popsicle anymore.
I was grateful for their victory over this penchant. But I was most proud that they'd achieved it together.
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