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How to Stop Thumb Sucking

how to stop thumb suckingThumb sucking is a natural reflex that begins in the womb. Babies in utero begin sucking their thumb in the second trimester – even as early as 15 weeks of gestation. Sucking is a reflex that babies use to soothe and calm themselves. It makes them feel happy and secure. Babies use sucking to learn about the world around them. Infants suck on pacifiers, thumbs, fingers, and other objects.

Toddlers and young children may suck their thumbs to soothe and comfort themselves. Because thumb sucking is relaxing, it helps babies and young children fall asleep. That’s why you may notice that your toddler or young child starts thumb sucking when they’re getting tired. Thumb sucking allows children to fall asleep more easily, and it helps them sleep through the night at an earlier age than children who don’t thumb suck.

Most children stop sucking on their thumbs and pacifiers by the time they’re five or six years old. Experts don’t really view thumb sucking as a problem in children under four years old. However, if your child continues to suck his or her thumb after age five, this can put him or her at risk for developing speech and dental problems.

When to Seek Professional Help for a Thumb Sucker

In rare situations, a child who is a thumb sucker may be doing it in response to an emotional problem – such as anxiety. Experts also recommend that you seek professional help if thumb sucking is accompanied with hair pulling, and dental and speech problems. You may also need to stop thumb sucking if your child continues to suck their thumb with great intensity after the age of five.

Why is Thumb Sucking Bad?

In older kids – over the age of four or five – thumb sucking can become more than a bad habit. The American Dental Association (ADA) highly recommends that you stop thumb sucking once your child’s permanent front teeth come in, because thumb sucking can interfere with teeth alignment, mouth growth, and it can even cause changes to the roof of your child’s mouth. The longer that your child continues to suck his or her thumb, the more likely that he or she will need orthodontic work in the future to straighten his or her teeth.

For most children, their permanent front teeth start coming in around the age of five. Fortunately, for most kids, many aren’t sucking their thumbs at this age. If your child is still thumb sucking, you need to step in and stop the habit to prevent dental problems that can result.

After age four, children who suck their thumbs are more likely to develop speech problems, such as having a hard time pronouncing their Ds and Ts correctly. They may lisp and thrust out their tongue when they’re talking. These speech problems may require them to see a speech therapist to get them back on track.

How to Stop Thumb Sucking in Your Child

Thumb sucking can be a difficult habit to break. Everyone has a different method for helping your child stop the thumb sucking habit. Here are a few tips that may help you:

1.Limit the times that your child is allowed to suck his or her thumb. You may also want to take away blankets or other items that your child typically uses when he or she commonly sucks his or her thumb.

2.Praise your child when he or she does not suck his or her thumb. You may want to give him or her extra rewards – like an extra snack after dinner, an extra bedtime story, more time on the playground, and etc. Let him or her place stickers on the days when he or she does engage in thumb sucking.

3.Gently remind your child not to suck his or her thumb when you see the behavior. Never criticize or harshly punish your child for thumb sucking, since this adds extra stress and anxiety, and it teaches him or her that thumb sucking is an attention-grabbing behavior.

4.Encourage your child to find something else to do when the urge to thumb suck kicks in. For example, you may want to encourage him or her to go hug a teddy bear or give you a hug when he or she feels the need to suck his or her thumb.

5.Never nag your child to stop thumb sucking. This will probably make her want to thumb suck even more. So gently encourage your child. You may even want to discuss how much he or she has grown, and that a big kid doesn’t suck his or her thumb. Point out that he or she isn’t in diapers anymore, doesn’t drink from a bottle, and doesn’t sit in a high chair. So a big girl (or a big boy) doesn’t thumb suck.

6.Try to distract your child whenever you see your child’s thumb in his or her mouth. You may want to ask him or her to do an activity with you that uses both hands – such as holding a book with both hands, or drawing a picture.

7.Have a sleepover with friends who do not thumb suck. Friends are important to the pre-school and elementary school age group. If your child happens to suck his or her thumb during the sleepover, the other kids may say something about it and this can give your child an incentive to stop the habit.

If none of those tips work, you may want to put a sock over his or her hand at night. Your pediatrician or dentist can also prescribe a bitter-tasting medication to coat his or her thumb with, and this may also help stop the thumb sucking habit.

About the author: DP Nguyen is founder and editor of Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Jo December 9, 2015, 1:19 am

    The list of how to stop thumb sucking is pretty good. I’ve searched the internet high and low to find out how to stop thumb sucking and the best products. I have twins, one sucks her thumb and the other sucks her finger. Both are four years old. My pediatrician told me they need to stop thumb sucking / finger sucking as soon as possible because their adult teeth will come in soon and the habit becomes only more difficult to break. I found several websites with products but only one with reviews, maybe you can recommend one? At the top of their star ranking for best thumb sucking product is nipit and second is the tguard, at stopthumbsucking.org/how-to-stop-thumb-sucking what do you think? I figure that I have one try to get them motivated and I want to get it right. Thanks!

  • Teri November 22, 2013, 1:56 pm

    As the parent of a child who really loved sucking his thumb, I know how hard it is for some kids to stop – even when they want to.

    When my son was 7, our orthodontist told us that he was going to need an expander within the year and had to stop sucking his thumb before it could go on. I wasn’t willing to make my son suffer with any of the products on the market used to MAKE kids stop thumb sucking: plastic sheathes, neoprene thumb sleeves and bitter tasting ointments just to name a few. I also didn’t want him to feel bad about needing to stop sucking his thumb. So we talked about it – a lot. He wanted to stop, he just couldn’t. He would suck his thumb unconsciously during the day and all night in his sleep. First we tried using a regular knit glove, but he would pull it off in the night because his hand would get too hot. I had him sleep in my bed and spent all night pulling his thumb out of his mouth. Clearly, we needed another solution: Thumb-Thing. By eliminating all of the fingers but the thumb, his hand stayed cool and he would wear it all night. During the day he would put it on while we watched a movie or read a book, or anytime he thought he might suck his thumb. I didn’t have to do anything but make sure his Thumb-Things were clean. He never forgot to put it on at night, and instead of feeling bad about himself, he was proud.

    Please visit us at http://www.thumb-thing.com and best of luck to you and your little one!

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