mother and baby thumb sucking

Three Tips for Helping Your Child Break the Thumb Sucking Habit

When a baby finds his or her thumb for the first time, it can be sweet to watch. However, after a few years, this habit can cause angst for parents who wonder if they should step in and help their child break the habit.

Before we get to how to stop thumb sucking, let’s address why this habit is common in children. Babies have natural rooting and sucking reflexes which often lead them to put their thumbs or fingers in their mouth. Sometimes it starts in the womb! Thumb sucking makes babies feel secure, so they turn to it when they need to go to sleep or be soothed.

Most children will stop sucking their thumbs by the time they are 6-months-old; still, others continue until they are around 4. However, in times of stress, an older child may begin sucking his or her thumb again after giving up the habit.

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend treating thumb-sucking until after the age of 5. Child health experts say thumb sucking isn’t a concern until permanent teeth have come in and issues with how teeth line up may begin to occur. The severity of dental problems will depend on how long a child has sucked their thumb, the frequency, and the intensity.

Getting your child to quit thumb-sucking habit will be easier if your child is motivated to stop. Here are three tips that expert say may help discourage thumb sucking:

  1. Reward progress. Movie night, a trip to the park or some other special treat can motivate a child to kick the habit. A calendar with stickers is a fun way to track progress. Make sure to set attainable goals to prevent discouragement.
  2. Provide other sources of comfort. Since thumb sucking is often a stress response, in such times, try a reassuring hug or a stuffed animal to cuddle to comfort your child.
  3. Remain positive. Don’t scold or poke fun of your child. You really can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. When you see your child sucking his or her thumb, a gentle reminder will go much further than getting angry – which will likely cause more stress and an even greater desire to thumb suck.

If you are worried about your child’s teeth, schedule an appointment with his or her dentist. Sometimes, it helps a child hear the importance of breaking this habit from someone other than a parent.

Thumb sucking is a tough habit to break. While you want to help your child, don’t put too much pressure on him or her – or yourself. The more relaxed everyone is, the easier and faster your child will get over it this very common habit.