Thumb sucking is a common and totally normal habit among children, but at some point you may start thinking it’s time for them to stop. If you are trying to think of ways to encourage your child to stop the behavior, Sunlife Pediatric Network is here to explain the behavior, answer your questions, and give you some tips.

Why Some Children Suck Their Thumbs

Babies have natural rooting and sucking reflexes that come from seeking the nipple, which can cause them to develop a habit of putting their fingers or thumbs into their mouths- sometimes even in the womb! Since thumb sucking is a comforting behavior that makes babies feel secure, certain babies may develop a habit of thumb sucking when they’re in need of soothing or when they’re going to sleep. 

How Long Thumb Sucking Usually Lasts

Many children stop sucking their thumbs of their own accord, typically between 6-7 months or between 2-4 years old. However, even a child who’s stopped sucking their thumb might revert back to the behavior during times of stress. 

When You Should Intervene

Thumb sucking typically isn’t a real concern until a child’s permanent teeth starts coming in. If a child is still sucking their thumb when their permanent teeth come in, it may affect the roof of the mouth (palate) or how the teeth line up. The risk of prolonged thumb sucking causing dental problems depends on how often, how long, and how intensely your child sucks on their thumb. While some experts recommend addressing habitual thumb sucking before your child turns three, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that treatment can be limited to children who continue the behavior after turning five. 

Tips To Help Encourage Your Child To Stop Thumb Sucking

The biggest part of encouraging your child to stop thumb sucking is to talk to them about it. You’re much more likely to be successful in curbing the habit if you can convince your child to stop and they are involved with choosing the method involved. Occasionally, simply paying no attention to thumb sucking can stop the behavior- particularly if your child sucks their thumb to get attention. If ignoring it doesn’t work, here are some techniques you can try:

  • Positive reinforcement: Praise your child or offer rewards like a trip to the park or an extra bedtime story when they’re not thumb sucking. Set small, realistic goals like no thumb sucking an hour before bedtime. You can put stickers on a calendar so they can also see how long they’ve successfully avoided thumb sucking.
  • Pinpoint triggers: If your child sucks their thumb to cope with stress, identify the real problem and offer comfort in other ways, like with reassuring words or a hug. You may also offer your child a stuffed animal or pillow to squeeze.
  • Gently prompt them: Rather than scolding when you see your child sucking their thumb, gently remind them to stop. It may cause more stress and more thumb sucking in secret if you reprimand them.

Contact Us Today

Thumb sucking is an incredibly difficult habit to break for some children. Don’t worry- putting too much pressure on your child to stop sucking their thumb will only prolong the process. Call Sunlife Pediatric Network to schedule an appointment with a pediatrician today!