Friday, February 29, 2008

A real nail-biter

In Slate, Emily Brazelon's son has taken to biting his nails. She goes through the potential cures and tries putting foul-tasting stuff on his hands but then relents. Suffice it to say, the problem hasn't been solved. Part of the issue, of course, is Brazelon's parents failed to cure her and she is still a nail-biter

For us, it wasn't nail biting but thumb (or in the case of Child No.3, two finger) sucking. What is more, it was a habit we actually encouraged. Rather than have to deal with a dummy (pacifier), we knew that if our babies could find their thumbs, it would be the key to them learning to settling themselves to sleep. This is something we achieved with all three of ours at 2 months and, generally, it helped stretch out the sleep intervals (by which I mean the length of time before they disturbed us).

But we knew we were setting ourselves up for issues -- social and dental -- later on. Our genetic experience was not good. I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old. That left me with clearly visible (out of the lip) front teeth, my parents with a dental bill to cure it, and to this day my left thumb (the one sucked) is visibly narrower than my right. But I did give it up at 11 years old as the social pressure became obvious.

So what of our children that we deliberately hooked on to this habit? Well, in each case, thusfar, we have taken them at age 4 (just before we got adult teeth) and have intervened. At this age, it was enough that they realised it was a 'baby' thing to do and so there was some good amount of cooperation on becoming unhooked. The problem, of course, was the habit.

We considered fowl tasting applicants and tried it on Child No.1. This was abandoned the first night when we discovered her in the bathroom washing it off. So that was bad news. Although on the good news front, it is nice to see a 4 year old voluntarily using soap.

So I opted for another solution: about ten bandaids applied to them. It is hard to get off and also takes away the ease by which a thumb can get in the mouth. That did the trick. A few days later we were thumb free. So habits can be broken but cooperation and social pressure is a critical ingredient. On the economic side, I am sure our dentist will, however, find some other way to extract our money.