How to Help Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking

How to Help Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking
How to Help Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking.

If you've had a thumb sucker, you've probably had mixed emotions. I'll bet you've been glad that your child was able to use their thumb to self-sooth, but also a little anxious that at some point they wouldn't know how to self-sooth without their thumb. You probably also wondered at what point they needed to stop.

Research is showing that children should stop thumb sucking between the ages of 2 to 4 because vigorous sucking can cause the shape of the mouth to change (which can be fixed with braces), but it can also cause speech problems, like a lisp. 

So, if you have a thumb sucker that doesn't seem ready to give up their thumb, but it's time, here are some strategies that can help!

Talk to your child about their thumb sucking.

Have a discussion with your child about thumb sucking and why it's important that they stop sucking their thumb. They can absolutely know why you want them to stop. They need to understand that you are not just telling them "no" for no reason.

Figure out what situations make your child suck their thumb.

Many children suck their thumbs when they are tired, stressed or bored. If you notice that your child likes to suck their thumb while watching television, bring it to their attention so that they are aware of what they are doing and offer them a pillow or toy to hold instead. Bedtime seems to be the hardest time to break the thumb sucking habit so making a new bedtime routine has been helpful for many parents. Offer a blanket, white noise or something else like a sensory jar that is soothing to the child to help them fall asleep. Offer a stress ball or other squishy toy to your child to squeeze in stressful situations as a replacement for their thumb.

Use positive reinforcement.

When your child is successful at meeting goals of not sucking their thumb, offer them small rewards, even just verbal praise. Rewards can be as simple as a big high five, a sticker, an extra 5 minutes of playtime, a fun craft, or just getting to pick what song plays on the radio. 

Take it slow.

Weaning your child from thumb sucking probably isn't going to happen overnight. Thumb sucking is a habit and as we all know, habits are hard to break, so take it slow. Consider starting out by asking them to stop sucking their thumb outside the house and then when the child is successful with that wean down the thumb sucking time some more.

Nix the Negative.

Even if you feel frustrated by the process, try to stay upbeat and positive. Weaning from thumb sucking should not be stressful for your child. Don't try to cover their hands with bindings or medicines as that will frustrate them and make them feel like they are being punished.

Good luck!