How to Stop Thumb Sucking

Figuring out how to stop thumb sucking becomes an issue for most parents during the toddler years. Thumb sucking is common in children, but kids usually stop on their own by three or four years of age. After that age, you may need to help your child break the habit, because thumb sucking can have negative effects on the development of adult teeth. 

Why Do Toddlers Suck Their Thumbs?
The sucking instinct is natural in infants; it's how they get their food. Apart from eating, a child sucks on a thumb out of bordedom, to fight feelings of stress or insecurity or during teething. Thumb sucking by older children can affect how the permanent teeth come in and can lead to an overbite, unaligned teeth and poor palate growth. Pacifiers can cause the same oral health problems, but it's much easier to break the pacifier habit.

Tips to Stop Thumb Sucking

  • Try putting pepper, soap or another bad-tasting, non-toxic substance on your child's thumb. This doesn't always work, but it's an easy first step.
  • Don't pressure your child to stop thumb sucking. This increases stress, which leads to more thumb sucking. Praise your child for not sucking her thumb. Try using an incentive to reward success in keeping the thumb or fingers out of the mouth. Find a special treat for not sucking, such as sugar-free lollipops or a favorite activity.
  • Watch your frustration. It will take time on your child's part and patience on your part to break the habit. Kids are attuned to their parents' emotions, so if you're feeling stressed, your child will be too. The thumbs head for the mouth when your child is uncomfortable.
  • Look for and remove sources of anxiety. If you think your child is thumb sucking for comfort, replace the thumb with a favorite teddy bear or blanket.
  • For a stubborn child, try taping the end of the thumb or putting a bandage on the thumb. Taping a sock over the thumb at night can also help.
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