Globe Syndicate


for release Friday July 22, 2005


Another Way


by Melodie Davis



Thumbsucking, Bedwetting, And Other Nasties Of Childhood


Without a doubt, thumbsucking and bedwetting were two of the bigger trials of our early parenting years. You may say, if that is the worst you had to deal with, you were very fortunate, and that may be. But to the parent and child going through them, it can be trying and have long-lasting social and emotional implications. How can a parent deal with helping children stop?


Summer is a great time to work on these issues or even launching potty training. I always thought potty training went easier in the summer because I could just let the kids run around without diapers and encourage them to use the potty chair.


Many children have no trouble staying dry in the daytime, but bedwetting plagues them into early adolescence. Since my husband and I were both late bedwetters, we expected to have some problems with our children. A recent article in Parents magazine said that “if you were a bedwetter as a child, your child has a 40 percent chance of wetting the bed, too. While there’s not a bedwetting gene, experts believe that kids with enuresis [the name for this condition] inherit an inability to produce enough [of a] hormone that slows nighttime urine production” (Parents, 2005). While there is a medication that can be used to help reduce the production of urine at night, we never had to resort to that.


It is a huge chore to get up at night and clean up a bed and wet PJs, and most parents find various ways of coping: putting on layers of bedding with a waterproof pad between sheets, or we simply kept an old baby crib mattress under the kids’ bed to pull out in case of a bedwetting episode, leaving clean up until morning. Generally, the older the child, the more he or she should be involved in the work of taking care of wet clothing and sheets, so that he or she will be more motivated to be attuned to waking up when the bladder gets too full. Sometimes they are plenty motivated and nothing seems to help. There are mechanical aids to help a child in this process, but basically it is a matter of a child managing his or her own affairs (after ruling out medical problems which may be underlying problems of this sort).


Regarding thumbsucking, recently I came across a little poem in my “keepsake” drawer, by Shel Silverstein, which my children enjoyed during their thumbsucking years:


“Oh, the thumbsucker's thumb

may look wrinkled and wet

and withered and white as the snow.

But the taste of a thumb

is the sweetest taste yet,

as only we thumbsuckers know.”


Two of our daughters sucked their thumbs well past the “normal” or socially acceptable ages of 3-4. I always used to comfort myself: well, I know she won’t “walk down the aisle” sucking her thumb, so I know she’ll have to quit sometime. But, now I discover via the Internet that some adults (women particularly) do continue the habit even into adulthood. So I’m newly thankful that my daughters were eventually able to give up their thumbs. 


As we know, thumbsucking is normal for infants and toddlers, but once it gets into the preschool years it becomes an ingrained habit with many ramifications—making it a landmine of difficulty for child and parents, (and all the other grown ups who seem compelled to comment on it). We tried everything that the experts tell you to try, including gloves, painting the thumb with nasty-tasting substances (can be purchased), bandages, wearing a sleeve tied shut at the bottom. We tried positive reinforcement: charts and prizes. Eventually the one daughter had to wear an appliance for the braces she would eventually wear, but even that failed to dissuade her—she just put her thumb inside her mouth, not into the appliance. Orthodontists can make special “cribs” or devices for this express purpose. Eventually both girls were able to quit their thumbsucking when a desire not to be different from peers gave them the motivation to want to stop, more or less on their own, at roughly the ages of 8 and 11.


Of course, numerous support groups and websites can provide moral and practical support for these and most any other problem you encounter with your children. So keep trying and don’t give up hope: the good news is that almost all of the nasty habits of childhood eventually fall by the way side—only to be replaced by the nasty habits of adulthood! 



Have any tips for dealing with bedwetting or thumbsucking? Post them online at or send to me at: Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg Va., 22802. (Please include your paper's name in your response.)


You can also visit Another Way on the Web at


Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.


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