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How to Stop Thumb Sucking in Children

It may be a soothing tactic, but when children suck their thumb it can also damage their teeth. Find out the reasons for and the ways to stop thumb sucking.

Your little on sucking their thumb may look cute, but you’re envisioning footing a hefty orthodontist bill one day. Should you try to get them to stop thumb sucking habits, or is it okay for now? When should you start worrying about it, and what are you supposed to do about it?
 
You don’t have to muddle through this on your own — it’s normal, and paediatric dentists and orthodontists have seen it all before.

 
Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?
Thumb-sucking is a natural reflex for children. Babies often start sucking in the womb. It’s used as a calming effect and typically lasts long after they arrive in the world. Once out in the world, children may suck to help them fall asleep, or when they hold an object like a blanket or cuddly toy. They may also reach for a thumb when they’re tired, nervous or bored. Sucking offers comfort because it’s similar to the sucking motion used on a bottle or on a breast.
 
Most children stop sucking their thumbs around 2 to 3 years old on their own. Before 3 years of age, thumb sucking isn’t an issue: any changes in their mouths will self-correct. However, if a child doesn’t stop thumb sucking after 3 years old, it can change the shape of the mouth, bone, bite and the teeth’s position. Thumb-suckers will likely need to see an orthodontist at a young age.

 
What’s the Best Way to Stop Thumb-Sucking?
Consider your child’s personality when reviewing the tactics below to help them stop sucking their thumb. As the parent, you’re the most equipped to determine what will work best for your child.
 
Here are some of our experts’ tips to get your child to stop thumb sucking:
 

  • Set Rules
    Young children often flourish on routines. Set boundaries about sucking the thumb at home. Tell your child, ‘Starting today, you won’t suck your thumb in the dining room’. Then expand the territory to the living room, the kitchen and beyond. Be sure to discuss these rules with any other carers, so they can be enforced consistently.
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  • Praise Them
    Create a chart to track when your child doesn’t suck their thumb. Offer small rewards like stickers.
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  • Avoid Negativity
    Don’t embarrass or scold them. Use a positive reward program and not a punish-based system. Punishment may frighten or scare the child, which may increase their subconscious need to suck their thumb. Negative reinforcement often only makes them rebel and suck more.
     
  • Discover the Real Issue
    If your child is sucking their thumb when they’re anxious, comfort them with a hug or cuddly toy. If they do it when they’re bored, like in the car, sing a song. Give them a snack if they suck their thumb when hungry. Offering an alternative can help divert their attention from their thumb.
     
  • Do One Thing at a Time
    Moving? Potty training? Expecting a baby? This might not be the best time to focus on breaking the thumb-sucking habit. Focus on one issue at a time. You can’t do everything at once.
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  • Blame the Thumb
    Don’t make children feel like they’re misbehaving when they suck their thumb. Instead, say something like: “You have a sneaky thumb. Tell that thumb to get out of your mouth!” Children like taking the blame off themselves.

 

 



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