child sucking their thumb: how to stop a child from sucking their thumb

If your child has sucked their thumb from day one, chances are you even have an ultrasound of them doing it when they were in the womb (yes, really, some babies do suck their thumbs – or fingers – in utero). While it’s not something to worry about in the early years – and it’s estimated that most children will have given up thumb sucking by the time they turn 5 – but some medical professionals think thumb sucking can impact oral health and speech development.

Why does my child suck his thumb? 

The short answer is: for comfort. Thumb sucking is usually a form of self soothing and it’s an ‘easy’ option because they don’t need access to a dummy or lovey – their thumb is always there. Other babies will suck their thumb out of boredom, and it becomes a hard-to-break habit.

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How to stop a child from sucking his thumb

Talk about it

Ask your child why they suck their thumb. Some kids don’t realise they’re doing it, and many don’t know it’s a habit they’re expected to outgrow at some point. Tell them that it’s a coping mechanism for little children but now that they’re getting older, they don’t need to suck their thumb anymore. But be careful not to frame this in a judgmental way.

Limit the activity

If your child needs to suck their thumb to go to sleep, try asking them to limit it to only when they’re in bed at night or during nap time. This is a way to slowly phase it out of everyday life and limit it to certain times of the day. It’s not a quick process but will help them cut down on the amount of thumb sucking they do.

Read a book

Reading a book about a character who manages to break the habit might be what’s needed to encourage them to stop thumb sucking themselves. You can try ‘Thumbs up, brown bear’ by Michael Dahl, which is available from Exclusive Books and Loot or ‘The Berenstain bears and the bad habit’ by Stan & Jan Berenstain, which is available from Exclusive Books.

child giving two thumbs up: how to stop a child sucking their thumb

Try a reminder

A visual reminder might make a child more aware of when he’s sucking his thumb, as quite often kids don’t even realise they’re doing it. You can use a non-toxic marker to draw a cross or a star on their finger nail or get them to wear a ribbon or hair band around that thumb (not too tight!) so that they become more aware when they put their thumb in their mouth, which will ultimately make it easier to stop.

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Offer an alternative

Keep in mind that your child is sucking their thumb to gain a sense of security so giving them something else to do with their hand might offer them the same relief. You could try giving them a stress ball, a stuffed animal to cuddle or some play-doh to squeeze when they want to suck their thumb.

Congratulate them

Don’t underestimate what a big deal it is for your child to break a habit that’s been bringing them comfort and making them feel secure, quite possibly for years. Praise them when you see they’ve been successful, or when you know they’re making an effort – positive reinforcement really will make them feel supported in this journey. A rewards chart might also speed up the process.

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