Dirt, Nuts, Bad Hygiene and Habits Such As Nail Biting and Thumb Sucking May Have A Benefit After All And Newest Technique to Try to Replace Those Behaviors

Whenever a parent of a grandchild is worried about something the grandchild is or is not doing, such as sleeping through the night, or toilet training, this Grandma’s response is always, “well, he or she will be sleeping through the night when they walk down the aisle or he or she will be toilet trained when they walk down the aisle. I guess what long years have taught me is not to sweat the small stuff. My mother, GG Frieda (great grandmother) used to say, little children, little problems, big children, big problems.

I sincerely believe that nearly everything will work itself out in the end, and ultimately what seemed like a big problem in a little child is not really such a big problem. And, whenever I have said that statement about whatever not happening when the child ultimately walks down the aisle, the parent of the grandchildren laughs and I know, sighs a sigh of relief. Isn’t that a grandma’s job? To demystify and to give relief and respite in any way we can. Parenting is a hard job and we should try to make it easier if we can.

So, now to get to the newest of two of those small things, thumb sucking and nail biting, which parents of children fret about as large things, that are now the subject of a study from New Zealand, reported in the Journal of Pediatrics. In the New York Times, July 11, 2016, Perri Klass,MD, writes, “Thumb Suckers and Nail Biters May Develop Fewer allergies.”

The children were studied until age 38, and the study found some exposure to germs ” may help program a child’s immune system to fight disease, rather than develop allergies.” It seems that germ exposure caused by these habits in children ages 5-11 may be a good thing, just like we are learning that early exposure to nuts may be a good thing when dealing with nut allergies. 

This Grandma does not remember nut allergies so much of a problem  when the parents of the grandchildren were young and apparently they were not , as studies show that between 1997 and 2008, the incidence of peanut and tree nut allergies nearly tripled.  Now we know according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine “that high-risk babies who were fed a soupy, peanut-butter mush (starting between 4 and 11 months of age) were about 80 percent less likely to develop a peanut allergy by age 5, compared with kids who were not exposed.”  See this link.

The newest research on peanut allergies is a result of a UNC School of Medicine four-year clinical trial led by Edwin Kim, MD, reported February 27, 2023 in UNC School of Medicine Newsletter, “Novel Peanut Allergy Treatment Shown to be Safe, Effective, and Lasting,” and “has found that an increased dosage of a unique type of peanut allergy immunotherapy continues to show promise for children.”  The peanut allergy treatment is called sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT, to desensitize allergic children to peanuts.

Nutella, here we come! So, exposure to dirt and to nuts, and now to thumb sucking and nail biting may be not so bad after all.  Of course, there are other concerns with thumb sucking and nail biting such as social stigma, speech affected, or teeth affected. The newest techniques to deal with the “big children, big problems” issue of nail biting and thumb sucking behaviors looks to the positive, rather than the negative, seems promising and should be given a try.

A recent research study published in JAMA Dermatology, found that an approach called habit replacement may help reduce these behaviors, according to an article, “New research suggests that gentle touch could help stop nail-biting and skin picking. About half of the people in a six-week study said that practicing a simple new habit, like rubbing two fingers together, helped reduce their harmful repetitive behaviors. — particularly nail-biting,” by Theresa Tamkins, NBC News On line, July 20, 2023. 

The “habit replacement” involves unlearning the behavior, for example, thumb sucking or nail biting, “by performing a similar movement but switching it up at the last minute. For example, if you bite your nails, you might put your hand to your face but touch an earlobe instead of your mouth. . . .that the study’s habit replacement training differs in that it aims to replace the sometimes pleasurable sensation of picking and pulling with something that also feels good but won’t be harmful — gentle touch.”  This is far superior to previous recommendations to address the habits.  This Grandma can think of other undesirable habits that this might work for.

The best part of the new studies is that they show that children’s bad hygiene and bad habits that make the parents of our grandchildren crazy should not necessarily make us crazy.  And, it is up to us grandmas to point out the studies and pass this information along.  Empower the parents with some of the new ideas given by experts.  After all, it will also make our grandchildren’s lives better too.

Maybe next time a young grandchild is covered in mud, we grandmas and the parents of the grandchild can laugh together.  Allergy prevention at work!



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