The need to feel secure is a serious matter when children are out of their parents’ care. Their emotional cues are the key to understanding what can help feel comfortable and appropriately dependent. From thumb-sucking and pacifiers to “loveys and softies,” children must be allowed to discover and use the props that help them to comfort themselves and manage stress, especially when parents aren’t around. Children using these props and tactics is a testament to their parents’ success in helping them learn how to cope with life’s discomforts and uncertainties.
These objects are transitional. As children grow in their capacities to adapt and manage change and troublesome emotions, they will give them up on their own. I advise parents not to take them away, especially during these transitions. On the contrary. Keep them in good repair! I have seen blankets and toys that were rags and shadows of their former selves, glues, patched and re-stitched, still providing soothing magic.
Thumb-sucking into the second year can cause some tooth disruption if it’s especially intense and prolonged. Pacifiers are kinder to the mouth and teeth because they distribute sucking pressure more evenly throughout the mouth. By the first birthday, the need for non-nutritive sucking usually starts to diminish, so that by 18 months, walking and talking are picking up the self-stimulation slack. Comforting should be spread out over rocking, cuddling, softies, etc., lessening the appetite for sucking.