23 Apr

Stop child from sucking thumb: 12 techniques to break this habit

stop child from sucking thumb


Why do some children suck their thumb? It is a habit that starts when they are infants and stays up to the age of 4 or maximum 5. The child should come out of this habit within this period. But if it goes beyond that then it is a problem and hence, a solution needs to be found out to stop your child from sucking thumb. Some children suck their thumb which is very common. Some children suck forefinger and middle finger or middle finger and ring finger.

Why do children suck their thumb?

1. Comfort:

Many kids suck their thumbs to feel comfortable. This is a natural response when they are in an unfamiliar place or surrounded by unknown people. Sucking the thumb calms them down. Elder children also suck their thumb when they are in some stressful situations.

2. Hungry:

A baby who is used to sucking milk from his mother’s breast and is suddenly weaned away starts sucking his thumb when he is hungry. Such children do not cry, instead, suck their thumb. The mothers know immediately that their babies are hungry.

3. Sleepy or bored:

A child who is tired and sleepy sucks thumb before he falls sleepy. Also, when the child has nothing to do and is bored, he will suck his thumb.

4. Habit:

A child may suck his/her thumb due to above reasons. But later, this becomes a habit and then without any reason, the child sucks his / her thumb.

When does the habit become a problem?

Many children stop sucking their thumb from the age of seven months to one year on their own. They develop coping skills and get out of their habit naturally. The habit becomes a problem when the child is seen sucking his thumb or finger even after the age of five. It becomes an embarrassment for the parents and the child himself at school and in the family’s social circle. The thumb sucking habit also disturbs the teeth alignment.

How to stop your child from sucking thumb:

help your child from sucking thumb

Various methods can be tried out by parents to put a stop to this habit. Some of them are –

1. Peer pressure:

If a child is past the age of thumb sucking but is not letting go, he will attract attention from his siblings and friends. They will make fun of him and refuse to play with him calling him a baby. No child likes to be made fun of and will let go thumb sucking.

2. Stay calm:

Many times, as parents we get upset and shout at our child while telling him to remove his finger from the mouth immediately. We get worried that he may get infected by germs on his fingers. We may be conscious of what people may comment about the upbringing of our child. Staying calm instead of getting upset will work. If we are not calm the situation aggravates and will also disturb the peace in the family.

3. Create a diversion:

Whenever the child has the urge to put his finger in the mouth, we as parents can divert him by involving him in some activities such as storytelling, coloring, playing a game, etc. this will create a diversion and the child will forget about thumb sucking.

4. Identify triggers:

Identify the triggers that cause the child to suck the thumb. The triggers can be new people, place or sounds. The parents can make the child prepared to face the unfamiliar by counseling. They can also comfort him by giving his favorite stuffed toy or a blanket to hold.

5. Make thumb sucking unpleasant:

If the child is very young, the parents can apply chili powder or vinegar to the thumb so that the child gets an unpleasant taste when kept in the mouth and immediately removes it.

6. Have a conversation:

Have a short conversation with your kid about how his teeth will get spoiled or he will get infections from germs if he sucks his thumb. Also, give an example of his friends and cousins who do not keep fingers in the mouth.

7. Offer reward:

Offer small rewards whenever the child stopped sucking his thumb. The reward can be extra story time, cookie, go for a walk, etc. Praise and encouragement can also be used as positive reinforcement.

8. Have patience:

Lots of patience and time is required to pull the child out of this vexing habit. Losing tempers and shouting will never give any positive results. It will only make the child more insecure and stick to thumb sucking.

9. Offer a substitute during times of stress:

Many kids suck thumb as a substitute for taking out stress. Instead, if the kid is given a soft toy or a pillow to hold whenever he is stressed, he may forget to suck his thumb.

10. Offer gentle reminders:

Whenever the child knowingly or unknowingly puts his thumb in his mouth, immediately offer gentle reminders in the form of sign language or a secret phrase which only you and the child knows.

11. Arrange a chat with your dentist:

A dentist dressed in a white coat can leave a mark on the child’s mind. He can explain to the child, the disadvantages of putting the finger in the mouth. Moreover, it is necessary to take an expert’s advise when things are getting out of control.

12. Use of a thumb cover:

Use of a thumb cover can stop the child from putting the thumb in his mouth. The counter effect of this technique is that the child may feel very self-conscious. And once the thumb cover is removed thinking he is cured of the habit; the child may again revert sucking his thumb.

stop thumb sucking
image source

Closing thoughts:

The thumb sucking habit in a child may make him/ her look childish and immature after a certain age. It also creates a lot of tension and frustration among parents when their efforts to break the habit doesn’t yield results. Health and hygiene of the child are also at a risk.

The child may get infection and face denture problems as the front teeth get pushed out. Avoid battles with the child because the more importance is given to the habit, the more he/ she will stick to it. Punishments and threats may make the child more aggressive. So as a parent expect resistance, be gentle and go slow when dealing with your child’s thumb-sucking habit.

Cover image source:

Radhika is a freelance poet, writer and teacher settled at Secunderabad. She is also a life skills trainer for children. Her articles and poems have been published in Woman's Era, Teacher Plus, The Hindu and websites like wow parenting. Her husband Rayudu and son Prashanth support and inspire her in her endeavours.