Breaking the habit of thumb sucking

My nine-year-old son sucks his thumb while sleeping, watching television and/or when he is trying to concentrate on tasks. I have received complaints from his school teachers but I am unable to motivate him to drop this habit. — Lakshmi Reddy, Vishakapatnam 

Thumb sucking is one of the hardest habits to break in children because it is usually a response to separation anxiety in the early years and helps children to feel calm and relaxed. Later in life, children and teens indulge in it when they are bored, hungry, upset, or stressed. Parents use bandages, bitter medicine and dental appliances to reduce thumb sucking. However, these methods tend to exacerbate the problem. An excellent natural way to reduce anxiety in children is through play. Encourage solitary and peer group play. Never use threats or punishments such as sending him away to a boarding school and avoid ridiculing him for thumb sucking as it’s likely to increase it because of heightened fear of being abandoned by you.  
 
I have a seven-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. I have recently been informed by my boss that I will soon be posted to Australia on a work project for eight months. My mother has volunteered to step in and help with the children. Do you think eight months apart from my children is too long a separation period? My husband is also not happy about it, but we need a double income. Will the separation hurt my children psychologically? — Ranee Sona, Mumbai

This is a great opportunity to let your children understand that your career is important, as well as teach them gender equality. Prepare your children for the change by making arrangements for your mother to bond with them and set routines before you emplane for Australia. Keep your communication short, simple and clear while discussing your work stint abroad. Of course your children are likely to experience mild stress in your absence but if given a supportive, predictable and loving environment, they will be able to adapt. Once you are in Oz keep in touch via phone calls and video chats. Discuss your posting with your husband and let him know that your career is important to you. Explain to him that if the shoe was on the other foot you would have supported him fully. There’s no need to feel guilty about seizing the career progression opportunity that has come your way. In short, make the transition comfortable and set routines before you leave. Afterwards, stay in touch and allow your children time to adjust and adapt. 
 
I have recently come out of a very difficult divorce. My husband was abusive and after seven years of suffering him, I filed for divorce. Unfortunately, and painfully, my son was witness to the emotional and physical abuse I experienced. Although he is ten years old now, I sense there is some emotional scarring. My husband is still active in my son’s life. But I have noticed that my son is emotionally withdrawn and does not make friends easily. It has been a year since the divorce. Is he still coming to terms with it? Am I rushing his healing? — Zeenat Raheja, Bangalore

You made a brave decision by walking out of an abusive marriage. However, for your son the absence of a father will be stressful. Children need both parents. It is time you sought professional help and counselling for your son as the symptoms he is exhibiting are of childhood depression or adverse childhood experiences (ACE). He will need the attention of a therapist to help him deal with the loss of a parent and develop coping skills and emotional resilience. 

(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)

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