The Toddler Years: Thumbsucking

| January 20, 2013 | 31 Comments

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?

Comments (31)

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  1. desiree says:

    i now a girl who is 13 year old and still doing it she has the part of the blanket she carry some time to school and she doe it

  2. lisa says:

    My daughter sucked her thumb. I HATED it. She had a callous.I really can’t remember how old she was when she stopped,she’s an adult now. I just let it run it’s course.

  3. krysal says:

    my firend sucked her thumb till she was 12

  4. denise smith says:

    my kids are older now but i didnt have any trouble with my kids sucking their thumbs but my younger sister did

  5. Jeanine says:

    Thankfully, I never had to worry about thumbsucking, but my brother’s son did for years. They had such a time getting him to stop. I think you have some good advice.

  6. Deborah G says:

    It’s so hard to break the thumbsucking habit! THanks for this

  7. Loris Ayoub says:

    never had this problem, my first born used to put his hand on my mouth, until one day I had it, and he missed his nap and cried so much, but was the last time.

  8. Jo-Ann Brightman says:

    Although I never had this problem with my kids, I do like all your tips.

  9. Ashley S says:

    My kids never sucked their thumbs but there’s always the next one! lol

  10. rebeka deleon says:

    my son just turned 4 and sucks his thumb. trying to ween him off of it now. he only does it during the day when he is nervous or uncomfortable and while he is trying to sleep.

  11. Rama says:

    I never really sucked my thumbs as a child, atleast thats what I remember 😉

  12. Erin R. says:

    These are some good tips. My 17 month old sucks his thumb all the time.

  13. MY DAUGHTER WAS NEVER A THUMB SUCKER BUT LOVED HER PACIFIER AND SUCKED IT UP SIDE DOWN WOULD NOT TAKE IT ANY OTHER WAY WHICH IN TURN HAS LEFT HER BITE TOTALLY MESSED UP.

  14. pamela says:

    my children and grandchildren, never did this.. but will pass on to friends

  15. Betty Baez says:

    I have a friend who’s currently dealing with her daughter thumb sucking at three these are great tips!

  16. Tara says:

    I never had a problem with my child sucking there thumb thank goodness

  17. Christina Kelbel says:

    So glad my son never picked up this nasty habit, I would not have allowed it anyway!

  18. ANN*H says:

    Tho none of my children sucked their thumbs I have grandkids coming along now. Great tips for those that do. I think thumb sucking it done over into older ages at times. Its like a comfort for them,I dont know, that would be my guess.

  19. Lilia says:

    All very good tips! MY son is a thumb sucker 🙂

  20. Becky Bryant says:

    This is a touchy subject for me since I sucked my thumb on and off until I was about 16. For me it was a comforting thing since I had a rough life and my mother left me at 4 years old. My stepmother and father tried numerous things to get me to stop…bad tasting things painted on my thumb(I just would suck it off and spit it out until it was gone), taping a plastic cover to my thumb which I would pull off and replace in the morning. I feel that it is most always an emotional issue and should be dealt with very delicately. I was traumatized by how my stepmother and father dealt with it. I felt like my sense of security was being threatened.

  21. Stephanie Larison says:

    Very good tips. I’m glad that is something my daughter never caught onto. She didn’t even like her pacifier at all when she was a baby. I know quite a few people had the habit until a older age.

  22. Jennifer Mae Hiles says:

    Hmm, haven’t thought of this until now but I guess my daughter hasn’t done this yet. She is close to two so maybe she wont? I guess I have some good tips in case she does start though.

  23. Andrea says:

    Check out Thumbuddy To Love to help children stop thumb sucking…great teaching tool for thumb sucking and pacifier sucking. It comes with a thumb puppet, book and sticker chart. Google Thumbuddy To Love.

  24. Mitzi Fisher says:

    My son sucked his thumb when he was going to sleep, I never made a big deal out of it. He finally stopped on his own 🙂

  25. Karen Hand says:

    Excellent tips, although my children never sucked their thumb.

  26. Heather says:

    No thumbsuckers here, but these are some good tips to help get rid of the habit.

  27. cdtrrta says:

    My sister is 56. She still sucks her thumb at night and when she feels bad. My 11 year old sucks her thumb when she is nerves and at night

  28. precious mae says:

    My cousin has been thumbsucking until he was in his teen years but privately. It’s hard to break a habit like that if you have been doing it since.

  29. Sandra Greenberg says:

    I think you offered some great advice. I agree a child will eventually stop when they are ready but as they get older it is good to help encourage them to at least minimize the behavior. My boys weren’t thumb suckers but my daughter had a pacifier until she started preschool.

  30. Dorothy Boucher says:

    these are wonderful suggestions, none of my children sucked there thumb, and I am pleased with that but have seen other children and parents trying to break them of that bad habit.. thanks for sharing @tisonlyme143

  31. Jess says:

    I have heard of a device called handaid. It is 98% successful! Made to fit your child’s hand or finger. My son doesn’t suck his thumb but he does stick silk tags from blankies in his ear when he is tired! I hope he grows out of that:)

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