Eliminate Your Trigger: Lessons from a 5 year old

My eldest son has been sucking his thumb since he was in my womb. During his 1st year of life he began sleeping with a “mimi” also known as a security blanket. Since he was a baby, all I had to do was show him the mimi, or shake it (it had a rattling noise) and immediately his thumb would enter his mouth. That was his signal to go to sleep. It was a blessing!!!!! But by the age of 4 this blessing had become a curse. My son did not know how to sleep without his mimi. We were slaves to this thing…making sure never to leave home without it, or leave it where we were. True story: we were in Disney World one time and I left my purse on the train with my wallet and phone. Obviously we were upset, yet my husband turns to me and says “Caro, it could be worse…. you could have left the Mimi on the train!!!!!”

We should have eliminated the mimi when he was smaller but he is our first child and we couldn’t bear to do that to him. As he got older, he became more attached. One day, at the age of 5, my son misplaced his mimi. It was in the house but no where to be found. This was a common occurrence. We would look for it, he would cry, and eventually we would find it. But we knew as parents this had to stop. After a few minutes of looking, we stopped the search and told our son he had to go to sleep without it. It was a rough, sad night..but eventually the kid fell asleep. The next day was the same and the day after that.

What you don’t know is that my son would ONLY suck his thumb when he had the mimi in his hands. One of the reasons he was so upset when it was gone was because he felt as if he could not suck his thumb without it. By this point the dentist had already warned us that he needed to eliminate this habit. As sad as I was to see him miss his mimi so much, I was relieved that he had stopped sucking his thumb. You can imagine that when the time came that I did find the mimi, I chose not to tell him I found it. He had come so far, I was afraid it would set him back. I put the mimi in a safe place and carried on.

Fast forward months later to Easter. The Easter bunny came and left eggs, toys, and a fuzzy bunny doll. The bunny was soft and cuddly. I think the “Easter Bunny” (my inlaws) intended the bunny to be for the little ones, but the one that liked it was Orly. He clung to that bunny for dear life. He asked if he could sleep with it. He took it with him to places.  We thought he was a little too old for the bunny but we let it slide. We figured it was like having his mimi back sans the thumb sucking. That was the best case scenario.

And then the unexpected happened. A few days later, Orly approached his father with his bunny in hand and said to him “Daddy, this bunny makes me want to suck my thumb. I love it but I know sucking my thumb is not good for my teeth, so I need you to take the bunny and throw it away.”

WHAT? Did our 5 year old really just voluntarily give up something he loved only because he knew it was not good for him? yes he did. I don’t know if Orly sucked his thumb during the days he had his bunny. But I can tell you he does not suck his thumb now. I can also tell you that he doesn’t have a mimi or a bunny, although he still confesses he misses them from time to time. When my husband came to tell me what happened that day, he said “Caro, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of my son than I am at this moment. He has just done something most adults can’t do.” He’s right.

A plushy, cozy security blanket or stuffed animal was a 5 year old’s trigger for his addiction to sucking his thumb. How many triggers do we have for our addictions? Whether it is food, alcohol, smoking, drugs, sex, gambling…we all have triggers that prompt us to do things we know are not good for us.

What if we all did what my 5 year old did that day? What if we simply eliminated the trigger from our lives? Of course you may think, well its a lot easier to eliminate a stuffed animal than it is to eliminate all the triggers that prompt me to eat sweets or unhealthy food. That is true. But what was not easy was to make the decision to give the bunny to his dad. Confronting the problem, knowing that what you want to do is not what you should do, is the hardest part. And for a 5 year old the desire to suck his thumb was every bit as great as it is for you to have that piece of cake at a birthday party. As babies and toddlers, we have no choice but to engage in self discipline. We are weaned from the mother’s breast, weaned from a bottle, from a pacifier, from thumb sucking. We go from crawling to walking, from diapers to toilets, from the comfort of our homes to a scary classroom with strangers.

And yet for most of us, as we get older, change and discipline become more difficult. We have long forgotten the many times we were confronted with change and discipline as children. We have long forgotten how successful we were then. We forget how many times we fell before we were able to stand up and walk. We forget how many accidents we had before we finally got the concept of going to the bathroom in a toilet. And we think we are no longer capable of the same now. But we all are. So if you are reading this and know what your triggers are, then remind yourself you are the same as you were when you were born: Strong, disciplined, and capable of adapting to change.

Make the decision to identify what your triggers are in the problem areas of your life. Then eliminate these triggers as much as you can. The first step is to eliminate the triggers from your home. That way you have a safe place. Then slowly work on ignoring the triggers when you are out.  And if you fall, remember that’s okay too. You will get up again. After all, you’ve done it before.

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