How To Help Your Child End Thumb-Sucking For Good

So you know, I only recommend products that I stand by. When you buy through links on this page, your price doesn’t go up. I may earn a small commission from the product I am recommending. 

Resolving Thumb Sucking with a Few Simple Steps

Your child has discovered that their thumb brings more comfort than their blankie. Children often suck their thumbs when falling asleep, watching TV, or feeling anxious. While it may not have been a concern until now, you’re contemplating breaking this habit.

It’s reasonable to want your child to stop thumb-sucking.

It’s essential to know some common misconceptions about thumb-sucking:

1. My child will still be sucking their thumb as a twelve-year-old!

This is unlikely. Less than 9% of children who suck their thumbs continue doing so after age 5. Most kids stop thumb-sucking between the ages of 2 and 4. Many children stop sucking their thumbs at age five because they feel pressured by their peers. They don’t want to be the only one in kindergarten who still sucks their thumb during storytime.

2. It will harm their teeth and mouth.

This can happen, but usually only when kids get their permanent teeth. Permanent teeth typically start growing when kids are six to eight years old. In older kids, chronic thumb-sucking can alter the oral cavity’s shape. Fortunately, most children will have stopped this habit on their own by that age.

3. They’re using it as a comfort crutch. Young children often turn to their thumbs for comfort. But they will still learn other ways to handle stress or soothe themselves as they grow older.

4. A Pacifier Is a Preferred Alternative

Many parents prefer using a pacifier for their child, as parents can take it away when needed. In my experience working with families, removing a pacifier is much more challenging. If the pacifier becomes a sleep aid and source of comfort, removing it can be even more difficult. Many parents let their kids use pacifiers for longer than they planned. I have helped clients whose school-age children had difficulty giving up pacifiers.

Addressing these common concerns becomes a matter of personal parental preference.

If your child sucks their thumb, here are some ways to help them stop.

These suggestions are for children aged three and older. For children younger than three, we recommend ignoring the behavior and waiting until your child is older to help them stop. They may not even be a thumb sucker in a year or two if you wait!

To help with thumb-sucking, figure out why your child does it.

Every child is different. Some only suck their thumb when they want to sleep. Others do it when they’re upset. And some do it a lot. It has become a habit in all cases, and breaking habits can be challenging. One highly effective approach is the use of a reward system. Sometimes, giving rewards for not sucking their thumbs can motivate children.

However, it’s essential first to determine why and when your child turns to their thumb.

Keep a log.

During the first week, have a pen and paper ready. Write down every time you see your child sucking their thumb. At the end of the week, review what you’ve written.

Find out why.

If you see your child sucking their thumb when hurt, it helps them deal with pain. It helps them deal with the situation when they feel anxious or uncomfortable. If you notice thumb-sucking occurs mainly during TV time, it’s a sign that they turn to their thumb when idle.

Offer reminders and distractions.

Now that you’ve identified the purpose, you can propose alternatives to thumb-sucking. For example, if they are about to watch a favorite show, you can suggest a stuffie to hug and a bowl of grapes to munch on. You can offer a comforting hug if they use their thumb when injured after tripping on the stairs. And follow it with a fun distraction like a game or a beloved toy.

Think about using positive reinforcement or a reward system.

Make a chart for not sucking thumbs. It can help. You can promise your child a treat or a small toy at the end of the day if they succeed. Offering immediate rewards often yields better results. If your child is old enough, ask them to tell you when they don’t suck their thumb. You can give them a small reward like a sticker or shiny token every time they show self-control.

Offer alternative sensory comfort items.

Children who suck their thumbs at night should find a new way to feel comforted before bed. You can use a ribbon or light gloves to remind your child not to suck their thumb. You can try giving your child a new stuffie or lovey at bedtime to replace thumb-sucking. The stuffie or lovey should have a comforting texture.

Have patience and persistence.

Remember, changing habits takes time and needs patience and help from others. Punishing or nagging someone all the time doesn’t usually work to stop a habit. Children often engage in power struggles, and it’s best to avoid turning it into a battle of wills. If your child is old enough, you can talk to them about a habit you once had and why you want them to stop.

Focus on your child’s perspective.

To get positive results, focus on your child’s well-being instead of your concerns. This approach encourages them to internalize the decision. You can also say that the dentist or doctor told them not to suck their thumb because it can hurt their teeth. You may be surprised when they learn to calm themselves and remind themselves in new ways. Your child will likely stop thumb-sucking before you know it.

If your child is still within the typical age range for thumb-sucking, there’s no need to worry. Most children will naturally overcome this habit when they are ready. If you have a baby or toddler under the age of three, the best approach is to ignore the behavior.

Praise and Positive Efforts

If your child is 4 or 5 years old and still sucks their thumb, you can use positive methods to help them quit. Praising a child usually works better than using something bitter on their thumbs.

In conclusion, remember that breaking habits takes time and patience. Punishing or nagging is generally ineffective, as it may lead to power struggles. Instead, focus on your child’s well-being. Explain why it’s in their best interest for them to stop sucking their thumb. You can also convey the advice of a dentist or doctor, emphasizing the potential harm to their teeth.

Trust Your Child! They Can Do This!

If you help your child develop different ways to cope, they will most likely surprise you! Most likely, before you know it, your child will stop sucking their thumb. If your child is still at the age when many kids suck their thumbs, don’t worry. Most children stop doing this on their own. If your child is 4 or 5 years old and still sucks their thumb, you can use positive approaches. Praise and rewards can help them stop. Keep trying different techniques until you find the ones that work for your child’s needs and preferences.

Kim Rogers, M.A.
Kim Rogers, M.A.

I’m Kim Rogers, a solo mom by choice, pediatric sleep consultant, parent coach, maternal mental health advocate, and child mental health advocate. With conflicting information online, I’m here to share the missing pieces and what works. For blog requests, email me.

I hope you liked this blog post

If you want me to help you with your child’s sleep

You May Also Like…

When Sleep Training Does Not Work

When Sleep Training Does Not Work

Why Sleep Training May Not Work A lot of families ask me for individual sleep help because they tried sleep training...