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Attention Deficit and Thumb Sucking

Q: We have gotten a lot of input through the years about our 11-year-old son’s behavior from his teachers and this year’s teacher has commented as well. We’ve heard everything: focus issues, high-energy, etc. I want to know if he has ADHD so we can get him the help he needs, but I don’t know where to start. Where should we go first?

A: Hearing reports from teachers that your child’s behavior is not where it should be for his age is never easy. You are wise to look into this issue further. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a real condition that affects three to seven percent of children ages four to 17. Going undiagnosed can have detrimental effects not only academically but also socially, physically, and mentally.

There are two places to start that I would recommend. You can go to your school and meet with the school’s counselor or social worker, or you can go to your child’s pediatrician.

There is not a simple test that can be administered to your son. Rather, several assessment tools are given in order to ensure an accurate diagnosis. You will want a complete physical examination, a teacher assessment, and a comprehensive psychosocial assessment. A pediatrician, social worker, psychologist, or child psychiatrist can all diagnose your child. Ask questions if you are unclear about the process. This is a time when you need to be your son’s biggest advocate.

Once a diagnosis has been given, ask for recommendations for support groups, books, and websites. I also would encourage you to pursue treatment that is multifaceted. This could include behavior modification plans, family counseling, a change in diet, medication, or a combination of these things. The process may feel overwhelming but once treatment has begun, you will be amazed at the change in your child’s behavior.

Q: My kindergartner is getting grief at school because he is a thumb-sucker. I think the teacher needs to leave it alone for now, but she has made it a big deal. How do I help him stop? What is appropriate behavior for her?

A: This is a common situation. It is not unusual for children who are 4 or 5 to suck their thumb. However, it has become a problem for your child at school and requires your intervention. I think that you need to do two things. First, help your son stop sucking his thumb. I would talk with him about when he sucks his thumb. It may be a habit and he isn’t even aware of doing it or he may suck his thumb to soothe himself. Once you know when the behavior happens, you can help your son determine why it happens. Perhaps he sucks his thumb because school is still relatively new and he is anxious. Teaching him some deep breathing exercises will help him to relax without drawing attention to himself. His dentist is a great resource to ask for assistance about other strategies to help your son stop this behavior.

The second step would be to meet with the teacher. It sounds like you do not agree with the strategy she has used to have your son stop sucking his thumb. Hopefully, you and she can reach an understanding and continue to work together in the future. At no time should humiliation or shame be used in the classroom as a “teaching tool.” If you feel that has occurred, I would encourage you to address your concerns with the school’s principal.

Denise Noble is a mom of two and has master’s degree in counselor education. She is affiliated with, the parenting education arm of Greater Richmond SCAN, and has coached parents and worked with families for nearly twenty years.
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