Thumb-sucking and Holding Feelings Inside

We have raised my 6-year old daughter with Parenting by Connection ideas. One of my daughter’s friends sucks his thumb often. Suddenly, she began experimenting with sucking her thumb—she had never used her thumb as an infant. So for a few days, she went around at home with her thumb in her mouth a lot.

I asked her, finally, why she was sucking her thumb. She told me, “George does it. I do it to keep my feelings in. If I don’t do it, my feelings will come right out my mouth.”

I went over to her, and touched the hand of the thumb she was sucking. I said, “You can let your feelings out.” She burst into tears, and she sobbed hard and long. I have no idea why—she didn’t tell me what it was about. I listened. Then she stopped. It was over, and she was fine.  All she said about it was, “My feelings are coming out of my body.  All my feelings are coming out of my mouth.”

She moved on. She hasn’t sucked her thumb since. But once in awhile, she will tell me, “I’m feeling bad feelings inside.” I usually get close and tell her, “You can let them out,” and often she will say, “No, I don’t want to right now. I want to read,” or whatever she wants to do. So she doesn’t always have to show her feelings, she just likes me to know that she notices them.  She has this vivid perception that her feelings are inside he body, and that they come out of her mouth.

–a mother in San Anselmo, CA

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