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Thumb Sucking Article

Dr Fern Jean-Joseph qualified from the University of Bordeaux France in 1984 and completed her specialist training in Orthodontics in Paris in 1993.

In her 10 yrs experience in Orthodontics, she devised a method to prevent habitual thumb-sucking in Children that proved to be successful in more than 90% of cases.

The Method for prevention of thumb-sucking by Dr Jean-Joseph.
Have you ever encountered these die hard thumb suckers, and you don't have the slightest clue how to stop them? After threats, rewards, and bribes of all sorts - most of us just give up, expecting a miracle to get out of this sucking misery!

I have memories of numerous of these ‘enfant terrible’ using a thumb, another finger or piece of cloth comfortably watching TV or going to sleep. With my method, I have up to 95% success rate of getting a child to stop overnight!! With time I came to understand that I had touched on one of the main reasons which lead a child to stop sucking their thumb the same evening after I had met them.
When a child comes to me for a consultation and either the parents mention or I notice the suction, I take deep interest in the thumb or finger.

I examine it at all angles with careful attention like a curiosity, and then I shift my attention to the owner, asking them what is so special and so good about it. Whether it is my acting or my questions or both, the child and sometimes their mother laugh their heads off. I go on asking the child to show me how they suck. Slightly embarrassed they respond and I watch this intimate gesture very seriously.

Through this first interaction of mine, a real game is on. What follows is on the same path: part reality and part imaginary, in order to initiate the decision process. I personalise their thumb, visualise it as a friend. I explain that as in life, there are good and bad friends. We like him, but we know separation is necessary to avoid this friend's bad influence. I show an example of a child who has a terrible sucking study model with gaps and another one where just by stopping sucking the thumb the gap between the teeth has stopped without braces!!

This sequence is played in a very natural manner and appears to be a game to the child. However after the initial laughter, the child is somewhat confused. He seems to have many questions and emotions running inside him.

I continue
‘I know you have been trying to stop sucking your thumb, but sometimes without realizing it, its back in your mouth’ I look at the parent in a convincing way and she nods with approval. ‘It feels good and you are tired so you leave it there!’ With his sorry little face, he accepts it and says ‘that’s it, you understand’

Well I have a trick to help you; I say and then PAUSE to create suspense.
The child hurriedly looks at me for the answer but I delay. He is waiting for this miracle to be told to him.

I continue
‘You put sellotape on your thumb’. I can see this is very disappointing for the child as he was expecting something amazing

I continue
‘I know you going to say you might have tried it already’, I get his attention again
‘You agree that if you want to continue to sucking your thumb, you can take the tape off and carry on, OR if you want to stop when you put it in your mouth, the tape tastes horribly and you realize you have put your thumb in your mouth again. Now you can decide to say NO, I want to stop.
Whilst saying I mimic the whole scene as actions are great with children.

He seems to realize that he has a choice to express his will and be the master of his actions. This recognition is usually immediate and vital to the process. For each of my little thumb suckers, this is the most pivotal moment. My words, the rhythm, intonation and delivery are essential.

The feeling is like an actor performing the same part on consecutive nights. He can conjure the same fantastic performance each night. I do the same. The acting and text are the same but I recreate huge energy, conviction, warmth, enthusiasm, each time to allow the child to succeed.
I believe in this so it is easy to recreate as I know it works. Depending on the child’s personality I act accordingly. The alchemy is indispensible and the key to success!

I then inform the parent that no one should say anymore regarding their child’s thumb sucking activity. Tell all friends, relatives, school etc not to say anything else. It is the sole responsibility of the child now. The only thing the parents should do is to allow sellotape for the child disposal. I add ‘maybe you will find another way….your way to stop’. I had one child who decided to put his hands under the blanket when sleeping and so no longer could suck his thumb.

A new appointment is made to explain the impressions and x rays. From this I make my diagnosis and explain the treatment plan. Psychologically, this appointment is a deadline for the child to tell me what he has decided. I talk about this with equal importance with the impressions and the x ray so he feels committed to the process. The decision is all his.  They realize this and do not want to disappoint.
I am amazed at the courage of the child, they do not waver. Their decision is already made and although nothing is said, much is going on in their little heads. You can see it through the sparkling in their eyes. They go home and throw away their comfort cloth or break up with their best friend, the thumb.

At the follow up, I never discard their victory. Normally they are really looking forward to the next visit. They are bursting to tell me the news. They declare that they have stopped sucking their thumb. This is a huge statement and we all rejoice in this. I ask them to repeat their achievement. I even compare what they have achieved to those who want to stop smoking.
The child is overjoyed and delighted to share with the world. There is pride in the air, happiness to get rid of this curse. The parents are amazed.

Like a dream, all these kids’ faces superimpose themselves in the meanders of my memory.
I recollect Tatianna (5 years old) with her daring sweet eyes in the middle of her baby face and her little pig tails. She threw her ‘Bobi’, her cloth, out of the window the same night. Her mother has called a few times to say she is really missing ‘Bobi’. I encourage her.
Saphia, 6 years old, could not wait for the next appointment. She called me all very excited, her words stumbling over each other with joy.

Jonathon, beautiful blue eyes full of mystery and romance, kept silent surrounded by his separated parents. He desperately sucked his thumb maybe to forget or to overcome the tearing apart of his tender heart. Same approach, same result. He stopped immediately but just the smallest sentence to convey his triumph.

Sylvian, so handsome with his milky skin, his freckles and his steel-blue eyes. For him it’s the Nana, another cute name for a cloth. I thought him how to symbolize the separation between past and present. Either throw Nana in the fire or out of the window when going shopping with your mother. Watch it drifting away and leave it in the past and focus in the future, the big boy he is going to be.
Sylvian opted for the fire!!

And Marie!! All the prayers in the world could not stop her. At home, at school, out of sight, everywhere! In the waiting room she was sucking with conviction. A strong reputation preceded her. Marie stopped sucking her thumb overnight! Marie made me realize that something was happening in which chance had little effect.

Blackening full pages of their given names is like starting fireworks for me, adding to this the countless bouquet of flowers I have received, even more beautiful with a touch of eternity……





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