Now that I’m an adult, I can admit that I sucked my thumb until I was eight years old. I was recently out shopping, and I saw a big kid, probably about that age, sucking his thumb, and it reminded me of how long I indulged in the habit. What finally deterred me was having a dental retainer; it took up room on my palate and my thumb simply didn’t fit anymore. If you have a kid who sucks his thumb, what can you do, short of investing in orthodontic appliances? Here are some tips:
- Don’t jump the gun. If your baby, toddler or even preschooler still sucks her thumb, consider just waiting it out. According to dentists, thumbsucking is unlikely to cause any damage to your child’s teeth until she’s about four, so a two-year-old thumbsucker isn’t anything to get worked up over. If your child is four or older, though, then you might want to try to gently steer her from doing it.
- Recognize it for what it is. Kids suck their thumbs for comfort and security. In older children, it might just be a habit, but younger ones do it as a method of self-soothing. You might be able to wean your child onto a different soothing behavior, such as hugging a teddy bear or coming to you for some cuddling.
- Talk to your child. Let him know that you can help him stop sucking his thumb when he’s ready. If he goes off to preschool or kindergarten, he might encounter some peer pressure that will encourage him to stop the habit. You can also help the process along by asking your child if he thinks that an older friend or cousin sucks his thumb. This might make him think about stopping. Also, if he’s four or over, explain your concerns about his teeth, or ask his dentist to talk to him.
- Let your child know that thumbsucking is a bedroom activity. If she is sucking at all times of the day, tell her that she’s welcome to suck his thumb for as long as she wants to, but that it should be done in her bedroom. This might lessen the appeal.
- Try to distract him. Suggest an activity that requires the use of both hands, like finger-painting, Twister, playing a game on the computer, a game of catch, baking cookies or digging in the garden. Giving him something else to do might help break the habit, at least during the day.
- Offer the use of reminders. While you shouldn’t paint her thumb with something that tastes bad if she’s unwilling to try to quit, these products might help if she wants to stop but finds it hard to remember. You could also offer her a glove; that’s another reminder that will kick in as soon as she raises her thumb to her mouth.
- Try a little bribery. Use a sticker chart for each day that he doesn’t suck his thumb during the day, and have a special big-boy prize available after a week. If he’s on the cusp of wanting to quit, that might be all the incentive he needs!
In the end, things like thumbsucking are really one of the few things that your young child can control, and it has to be her decision to give it up.
What are some ways that you have been able to encourage your children to stop sucking their thumbs?