How to Stop Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is a habit that can start before a baby leaves the womb. Once thumb sucking is established, it is very difficult to break the habit. Babies have a natural rooting reflex, and will often put their thumb or fingers in their mouth to soothe or comfort themselves. As a child gets older, he may suck on his thumb when he is tired in an attempt to put himself to sleep. Some children suck their thumbs if they are experiencing boredom or anxiety. Most children stop sucking their thumb on their own by the time they start school, or between the ages of 2 and 5. If your child can?t seem to kick the habit, the following tips will be useful as you try to help him.

Talk to Your Child
Watch your child for signs of anxiety, and encourage him to tell you what?s bothering him. Explain that sucking his thumb might damage his teeth, or even make his thumb sore. Ask him if other children have made fun of him for sucking his thumb, and tell him you would like to help him stop. Be positive, and tell him you know he can do it.

Offer an Alternative
Some children resort to thumb sucking when they are bored. Have an intriguing supply of art supplies on hand. When a child is engaged in an activity that requires both hands, it?s hard to suck a thumb. Blocks, puzzles, and coloring books and crayons also require concentration and the use of both hands.

Give Positive Praise and Rewards
Pay close attention to your child as he goes through his day. Praise him any time you notice him making an effort to keep his thumb out of his mouth. Sometimes a little reward goes a long way. Reward your child by playing a game with him, or placing stickers on a motivational chart when you notice he isn?t sucking his thumb.

Limit Thumb Sucking to One Area
Tell your child that thumb sucking is only permitted in his bedroom. He may tire of having to go to his room to suck his thumb. Let him come to the realization that he is missing out on family fun if he?s in his room sucking his thumb.

When to Seek the Help of a Professional
Thumb sucking can lead to severe dental problems if it persists after the permanent teeth come in. A dentist can evaluate your child?s mouth, and teeth, to determine if treatment is necessary. Excessive thumb sucking may indicate an emotional problem such as childhood anxiety. Talk to your pediatrician, or get a referral to a therapist if you feel there is an underlying problem.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "How to Stop Thumb Sucking," in PsychologyDictionary.org, September 9, 2013, https://psychologydictionary.org/article/how-to-stop-thumb-sucking/ (accessed December 10, 2019).
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