Stop Thumb Sucking (For Good) – 10 Proven Strategies For Success

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Should I be concerned about thumb sucking?

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Thumb sucking is a bad habit. While it’s not a huge deal early on in your child’s life, it’s important for them to break the habit before their first permanent teeth start to come in, which usually happens around the age of 5-6. Continued thumb sucking can cause problems with oral development, as well as social problems around peers once your child is older.

So, how do you break the thumb sucking habit for good? In this blog from Kids Tooth Team, we’ll look at our top 10 proven strategies for success. One or more of these strategies may work for your child, and help them break their habit once and for all. Let’s get into it.

child sucking his thumb

1. Don’t Worry About It Until It’s A Real Problem 

First, don’t worry too much about occasional thumb sucking, especially in younger kids. More than 75% of infants suck their thumb at some point during their first year of life. And as your child grows, they may outgrow the habit.

So if your child is two, three, or even four years old and they still suck their thumb, don’t worry too much about it, and don’t draw too much attention to it. It’s a way of self-soothing, and they may break the habit on their own as they grow.

However, if your child is still thumb sucking regularly at the age of about five, it’s time to take action. If they keep sucking their thumb, it could cause serious and expensive issues with the development of their mouth and bite.

2. Have A Conversation With Your Child About Thumb Sucking

It never hurts to have a heart-to-heart with your little one. Tell them about why you want them to stop sucking their thumb. For example, you can tell them about the nasty bacteria that are on their fingers and will end up in their mouths. They don’t want to get sick or miss out on fun activities or school, after all!

If they're a little older, you can even bring up things like how thumb sucking is bad for their mouth, or how it may make it a bit more difficult to fit in with their peers.

3. Limit Thumb Sucking To Naptime, Bed Time, Or The House

To begin, you may not want your child to go “cold turkey.” Consider allowing them to suck their thumb for a certain amount of time, particularly around nap time, bed time, or when they're in the house. This makes it easier to wean them off of thumb sucking.

4. Use Positive Reinforcement To Encourage Your Child

Don’t be negative. Don’t punish your child for sucking their thumb, pull their thumb out of their mouth, or get frustrated with them. Positive feedback is better than negative feedback. For example, instead of yelling or scolding them when they do suck their thumb, praise your child when they avoid sucking their thumb.

5. Create A Reward Chart To Motivate Your Little One

A reward chart can be a fun way to keep your child motivated. You could have a monthly calendar. For each day they don’t suck their thumb, you could put up a gold star. After a week, they could get a Happy Meal or a visit to their favorite park. After a month, they could get a new toy.

The rewards and the system are up to you. But giving your child a little reward for breaking their habit can go a long way toward motivating them. They’ll have a reason to move past thumb sucking, and that may be enough!

6. Help Your Child Be Self-Aware About Thumb Sucking

If you notice your child sucking their thumb, don’t just scold them. Ask them if they realize that they're sucking their thumb, and ask them to stop. Thumb sucking is often an unconscious habit. Kids may not realize they're doing it. And by asking them to be more self-aware, you can help them break this habit.

7. Find Other Ways To Soothe Your Child

If your child is sucking their thumb, they usually are doing it because they need comfort. So figure out alternative strategies. Give them their favorite toy or blanket. Read them their favorite book, or watch some of their favorite videos on YouTube. If they have alternative outlets, they're less likely to keep sucking on their thumb.

8. Use A Mitten Or Finger Guard To Cover Their Thumb

If your child sucks their thumb at night, you could put a mitten or a glove on their hand to help them break the habit. In more extreme cases, you can buy special finger guards that make it impossible for your child to suck on their thumb, and are not easily removable.

9. Consider Anti-Thumb Sucking Liquid

There are some anti-thumb sucking liquid products on the market that are harmless, but taste nasty. You simply paint your child’s thumbnail with a little bit of the product. Then, if they try to suck their thumb, it will taste bad. If your child sucks their thumb a lot and is having trouble stopping, this may be a good option to explore.

10. Work With Your Dentist Or Pediatrician If You Need More Help

If you can’t break the habit on your own, work with a pediatric dentist or ask your pediatrician if they have any advice. They may come up with some ideas that work for your child, and help them finally break the habit of sucking their thumb.

Need Help With Thumb Sucking Or A Checkup? Come To Kid Tooth Team Today!

We hope this guide has given you some new strategies to try when breaking your child’s thumb sucking habit. Whether you need more tips or you’re just looking for a new pediatric dentist Dr. Alexandra Otto is here to help at Kids Tooth Team. We have three office locations in Buda, TX, Kyle, and South Austin, TX.

As a board-certified pediatric dentist, Dr. Alex can provide you and your little one with all of the help you need to keep their smile healthy as they grow. We’re always accepting new patients, so give us a call or schedule an appointment online to get started today.

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