We have been working on a big project with #2 all summer long. It is a project that we avoided for a very long time, hoping against hope that the project would take care of itself. Alas it did not take care of itself...so we were left to deal with it.
The project has been to help #2 stop sucking her thumb.
Yes my 7 year old daughter sucked her thumb up until a few weeks ago.
When she was a baby the thumb sucking was a blessed thing. She would not take a pacifier, and at first often used my pinkie to soothe her self and satisfy her needs. Since I could not always be there to offer a pinkie, she eventually found solace in her own thumb. We vowed at that time that we would let her give it up on her own, and not do foolish things like paint her thumb with foul tasting stuff to deter her. We naively assumed that she would give it up by the time she entered school, much as her sister gave up her beloved blankie.
Ohhh how wrong we were.
We did put some limits on thumb sucking. Once preschool started we instituted the no thumb sucking at school rule. Not too hard for her, as she relied on it mainly for when she was very upset, sleepy, or at times when she was inactive. We then moved from there that there was no thumb sucking outside the home. That was tougher, but still not too bad. Still we assumed she would give it up herself.
A few years in to school and she was still at it. Now our avoidance had everything to do with total dread of the hell we knew was going to come from trying to make her quit. So we put it off.
Then last spring she was invited to a slumber party at her best friend's house. This activity was NOT met with the enthusiasm I expected. Of course being the mom that I am I starting asking, "whassa goin' on???" Finally #2 confesses that she does not want to go because she does not want the other kids to see her sucking her thumb at night when she is going to sleep.
Now at this point my therapist red flags start going up. We are now broaching the "behavior interfering with participating in life activities" range. I had a conference with BH immediately and it was decided that we could put off addressing the issue no longer. (OK we decided to wait until summer break, but you get the idea!)
So it was decided that we would take things slowly. We began by giving up thumb sucking during times that she was really not engaging in the behavior that much. We took things in increments of a few hours. Rewarded her for each successful day with a dime, and every three weeks the no thumb sucking time was increased. The end reward for giving up the thumb altogether was a slumber party with her friends.
I have to say this all went MUCH MUCH MUCH better than I ever anticipated. She was very edgy about the idea, but really motivated by the rewards. In the end she took the initiative to make the increases sooner than we had stated and moved things along at a good clip. There were some tough moments, particularly as she was figuring out new coping skills, but all in all I was shocked at how easily this went and kicked myself for not trying it sooner.
The last time to go was night time. Boy did we dread that. The time to move on to that one came just as we were going on vacation, so we put it off. Then when we got home it was time to start school...so we put it off again. Also we had no f'ing idea how to go about this one. This was the mother of all.....
Two weeks ago at bedtime #2 asks when it is time to give up the thumb at night. We told her we could start in a few weeks once she was good and settled in to school. #2 says I think I would like to start tonight. BIG PAUSE. "Okkkaaaayyy" we said cautiously, "if you are sure...." She was definitely sure. So on we went. I fully expected her to come out in about 5 minutes completely distraught and saying she had changed her mind and couldn't do it. No such thing. We checked on her and she went to sleep with very little trouble NO THUMB.
She had one night where she was wavering, but it was an up too late overtired moment that a solid bout of snuggling helped her through. She has come up with some good ways to help cope when she wants to suck her thumb and we have now gone almost three weeks thumb free at night and recently we were able for the first time to put nailpolish on all 10 fingers!
HOOORRAAAYYY!!! Mission accomplished!!!
Tomorrow....Slumber Party! Complete with two good friends, pizza, popsicles, popcorn, much giggling, games and likely little sleeping. She is so excited that she is having trouble sleeping tonight and has reminded me no less than 50 times since I got home from work at 5 that,
"TOMORROW IS THE DAY!!!"
Indeed it is.