Q: I am about to begin Unplugging the Thumb sucking elimination program with a 5-year-old boy who very much wants to quit. He actually sucks two fingers, the index and middle one. When I first started working with him on articulation last year, I offered to help with the sucking habit (I work with him through a school job, not privately). I told him mom I had experience with it but she opted to try something else: the bad-tasting nail polish. It helped temporarily but then this summer its usefulness has lessened. He began to put up with the bad taste until it went away and now has overridden his dislike of the taste. He told him mom that sucking his fingers is “irresistible”. Yet, he does want to stop, he says. When mom showed me a strange contraption (online) that goes over the fingers to prevent sucking but still allows use of the fingers (and it was pretty expensive), I offered my help again. I know that the difference between this and your program is that with your program, he takes ownership of not sucking and uses sockie in the places he used to suck rather than all the time. We are going to give your program (UTT) a try beginning next week. His mom had a question for me: what if he slips his fingers into his mouth right before she puts the sock over his hand before bed? Would he still receive a sticker the next morning?
A: I’d say of course not, but he would still wear sockie to bed. That is a very odd question and could not have come out of nowhere. Why would she even think of something like that? I hope she isn’t a parent who won’t let the child take charge as much as possible….Why would he do that if HE is the one who decided to quit? It’s too bad they tried the other methods and experienced ‘failure” as that is always a barrier when trying to excite him about UTT and convincing him that he will succeed in his goals. You’ll have to be really on the ball about everything and thinking ahead when you present it due to his past negative experiences with other methods.
Q: But he is very smart and might wonder what the point is if he already lost the sticker for the next morning.
A: If he is merely doing it for the sticker, something was missed along the way. The sticker is just to keep track of the ten days in a row and if he messes up he can start over and work for ten days. (notice I said “can” start over rather than “must” as it isn’t something we adults are doing “at” him but rather we are simply his helpers since HE decided to do it and HE took charge, etc. Any rewards should be that we are happy for him and not that we are rewarding him. I hope this makes sense. It’s all in the attitude of the parent as well as us therapists.
Q: Do you think he is too young to do this yet?
A: If he is a typical child in most ways, he should be able to do it. It all depends upon if he wants to do it and if every adult is careful not to make it their issue at all. Let him reach out if he needs help or let him ask the adult to remind him to prepare for bed with Sockie, to place a sticker, etc. The adult should not be doing everything but let him lead the way if it is to be successful
Q: I just wanted to bounce this off you in case you have ever had this situation before.
A: I haven’t had this particular situation, but I have seen kids who have been through everything on the market and failed at all of them…and had them tell me why every other attempt failed or hurt their thumb/fingers, etc. The other methods were as mentioned about “doing at” them rather than assisting them as needed as they took charge. I hope this helps and I wish you much success. I have had parents that were unable to follow my directives and I refused (of course in a nice manner) to work with them and the child as I knew the parent was making it personal to them and was unable at that time to follow the child’s lead. Before providing the program, be sure everyone knows their roles and that the child believes he will succeed. Otherwise, tell him to wait until he is very sure and then he’ll be a great success. Leave it open if he is not sure about it.