Many children suck their thumbs – it’s a handy (pardon the pun!) way to soothe themselves when tired or upset.

Most kids stop thumb sucking between ages 2 and 4, or once there is peer pressure when they start school. And there’s no reason to worry. Thumb sucking is usually harmless, although it can affect your child’s permanent teeth once they start to come in.

But some children find thumb sucking a difficult habit to break. Here’s how you can help your child stop thumb sucking.

Talk to your child

Your child will respond better if you talk to them about their thumb sucking and help them choose ways to break the habit. Let your child know how big they are getting, and that there are other new and exciting things about moving to the next stage.

Identify triggers

Talk to your child about why and when they suck their thumb. Your child might have certain things that trigger their thumb sucking, like feeling tired or anxious.

bedtimes

Give gentle reminders

When you see your child suck their thumb, give them a gentle reminder that they are trying to break the habit. Some children aren’t even aware that they are thumb sucking!

Offer alternatives

Sometimes your child might need to be distracted from thumb sucking when bored. A cuddle might help reassure an upset child or a special teddy or story help settle a weary one.

sleeping-boyMake giving up a good thing

Like anyone learning something new, praise and little rewards like stickers can help a child feel good about getting bigger and giving up thumb sucking.

Don’t punish

Breaking a habit is hard. Punishing or putting pressure on your child is unlikely to help, and may just make your child thumb suck in secret. Remember that children develop in their own time – here’s the key milestones to remember.

A chat with the dentist

Sometimes asking a friendly dentist to talk with your child about caring for their teeth (including not thumb sucking!) can help. Kids often respond well and stop thumb sucking when they hear it from someone else.

Parenting and Child Health have some great information on comfort sucking including dummies and thumb sucking.

child at dentist thumb sucking

Thumb sucking paint

As a last resort, for older children who really want help to ditch the habit, you can try a thumb sucking paint. These are harmless, but do have a yucky taste that’s meant to remind kids not to put their thumb in their mouth. They aren’t recommended for kids younger than three, so keep this one up your sleeve for school-aged thumb suckers.

And remember, most children will stop sucking their thumb on their own in time. In the meantime, try not to worry. Like all kid stages, what seems like a forever problem right now will likely pass soon.

Is your child addicted to the dummy? Here’s some clever tips to help them ditch it!

Author

I love my three country kids - and all things writing! Like most mums, I wear lots of hats - writer, children's author, organisational psychologist and the pairer of the odd socks!

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