Thumb Sucking

By Kate Macdonald

April 29, 2020

Does your baby suck their thumb to put themselves to sleep? Or when they are in the car seat? If the answer is yes you are not alone and it is normal for them to use this as a method to self soothe or calm themselves. By the age of 2 or 3 years old your child has less need to suck. The most common time a child sucks their thumb is bedtime, watching TV or when they are upset about something. Most children will stop thumb sucking on their own between the age of 3-6 years old. Some parents want to phase out this habit before this age and can really struggle with it. In order to help your child, stop this behavior here are a few things to look at and try.

What age does thumb-sucking become a problem?

The Canadian Dental Association recommends that “it’s best to get your child to stop sucking before permanent teeth come in at about age five”. When a child’s permanent teeth appear, issues can arise with the roof of their mouth as well as their teeth alinement. Children may have difficulty pronouncing the letter “s” and “th”, or you may notice their teeth start to shift or they develop a lisp. Before the age of 5 years old you can try and let them phase it out on their own. It is often recommended by dentists if your child likes to suck to offer them a soother because it is easier to control when a child uses one.

As a parent it is hard for some of us to wait and hope it phases out. Helping your little one phase this habit out, can be a BIG struggle and the best thing you can do is be patient. Let’s be real, as parents we don’t always have an oversupply of patience by the end of the day but dig deep as this can take time and consistency to stop thumb sucking. Here are some ways to help your child stop sucking, keep in mind that some will work better than others depending on the age of your child.

How can you phase this out?

Identify your child’s triggers: When do they suck their thumb or fingers? This will give you a big piece of information to help you figure out how to help your little one. If your child sucks their thumb to fall asleep consider using a sleep sack that has their hands covered.

Positive reinforcement: Praise, praise, praise, every hour, set your alarm, and make a big deal about how great they are doing!!! This is a big one for toddlers and older kids!

Rewards: Make up a sticker chart and get them involved. Make a big deal about it!!! If they don’t suck their thumb that day they get a sticker. After “x” number of days reward them with an experience like a date with mom or dad, a picnic, or a movie. You can also use a reward such as a toy that they really want. You know your child best, so try and figure out what that “reward” would look like and get them excited to work towards it.

Distraction: When you know your child’s triggers, you can help distract them!! If they suck their thumb when they are in the car seat, try putting a puppet on their hand and keep them busy! Distraction is key!! You have to check out “Thumbbody to Love” thumb puppets!! They are adorable puppets that are made especially for thumb suckers and are a great tool to help distract your little ones.

Visit your Dentist: Booking a visit with your dentist often helps kids understand their mouths and teeth. Your dentist can chat with them about why it is important to try and stop sucking their thumb. Sometimes hearing it from someone other than mom or dad can help. If you have concerns or questions regarding your child’s sucking habit, discuss them on your next visit so that you can get some answers or suggestions. Often if you have tried multiple things to help your child stop sucking, they may consider a dental fixture to be placed their mouth or be referred to a clinic that specializes in thumb sucking.

Books and Screen Time: Use your little one’s favorite show to your advantage. Find an episode of Paw Patrol, Garfield or Peppa Pig to watch about a character breaking a habit and then talk about how they can stop their habit. If they love books take a look at “ Thumbs up Brown Bear” or “ I Can Do It, I Don’t Need My Thumb”.

Nail Polish: You can try and apply “Thum” nail polish which is bitter tasting and can help deter your child from sucking their thumb.

Thumb sucking prevention tools: There are a variety of thumb guards that you can purchase to help your child to stop sucking their thumb or fingers. The biggest thing to consider when using one is making it a positive experience and seen as something that can help instead of a punishment.

If you are struggling to find the right method to help your child stop sucking their thumb, reach out to your dentist or local Mama Coach. We are happy to help guide you to find the professional help you need to kick this habit. Hang in there mama!! You got this!!

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