Thumb-Sucking: Helping Your Child Stop
Many babies and young children calm themselves by sucking their thumbs. While most children will stop on their own, some continue past the age of 4 or 5. Prolonged thumb-sucking can lead to dental and speech problems.
With lots of love, encouragement, and a few simple steps, you can help your child break their thumb-sucking habit. Here are some tips.
- Keep your child's hands busy.
Use puzzles, games, crafts, or other favorite activities.
- Limit screen time.
Many children suck their thumbs while watching TV or online videos without thinking about it.
- Put something on the thumb as a reminder.
Try a bandage, gloves, or a special nontoxic, bad-tasting nail coating. Explain to your child that the bandage, glove, or nail coating is not a punishment. It's there to remind them not to thumb-suck.
- Gently remove your child's thumb from their mouth during sleep.
Thumb-sucking at night is the most difficult habit to break. It may take up to 3 months before your child is able to fall asleep without thumb-sucking. Gently explain to your child that if they continue to suck their thumb during the night, the habit will not go away.
- Avoid putting your child in stressful situations while they are trying to break this habit.
Your child may feel stress when they are hungry, tired, or afraid.
- Talk with your child about thumb-sucking.
Tell them why they might want to stop thumb-sucking. Let your child know that thumb-sucking causes problems with their teeth and mouth.
- Use a reward system.
Put stickers on a calendar on the days your child goes without sucking their thumb. Celebrate your child's success and give them plenty of praise.
- Be patient and positive with your child.
Be available for your child throughout this process. Acknowledge that this is a hard habit to break. If you are consistent, patient, and positive, your child will be more likely to succeed.
Remember this is your child's habit to break, and they must be willing to cooperate. Do not force your child to comply.
What if your child can't break the habit?
Some children have a more difficult time than others giving up thumb-sucking. It is important to use positive reinforcement during this process.
If your child is insecure, has any emotional problems, or is under stress and needs comforting, you may need to resolve those issues first before your child will succeed at stopping thumb-sucking.
If your child continues thumb-sucking, you may want to speak to a pediatrician or dentist to learn about devices (such as a thumb guard) that can be tried to prevent thumb-sucking.
Current as of: February 28, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.