From the moment they first discover their fingers and toes (consciously or not), many babies have a fascination with sucking their thumbs. You may even have left an ultrasound appointment during pregnancy with a grainy photo of your little one happily self-soothing in the womb.
Sure, it was cute back then — but now your child is 3 or 4, and getting them to stop sucking their thumb seems about as easy as convincing them that the blue cup is just as good as the red one. In other words, it’s never going to happen.
How Do I Get Them To Stop?
My five-and-a-half-year-old is an enthusiastic thumb sucker (same one who still loves his lovey like no other). Always has been. All of the literature suggests that most kids naturally wean themselves by four. Oh well. He doesn’t seem to indulge in school, but the thumb comes out the minute he is tired or hurt, and stays in his mouth most of the night.
Though my husband insists that there is a direct correlation between the thumb and my babying our younger son, I say if I had a thumb that gave me such instant pleasure, I’d happily live with an overbite for the rest of my life. But that’s me and, when push comes to shove, I don’t really want my child to have an overbite.
Relax, mom. Your kid’s not going to go off to college sucking their thumb. But it’s true that it may be a good idea to help your little one kick the habit at a certain point. And if you’ve decided now’s the time, here’s how to stop it:
1. Open up a dialogue
Some kids just don’t realize that sucking their thumb is a habit they should outgrow. Ask your child — in a curious rather than condemning way, of course — why they suck their thumb. Does it feel good? Do they even know they’re doing it? Is there something else they can do (like hugging a lovey or counting slowly to three) that will make them feel just as good?
2. Learn about thumb sucking together
If your child gets most of their life advice from Daniel Tiger (or Peppa Pig, or Paw Patrol), you might want to tap that resource. Watch a TV show where a character has to break a habit, and then talk with your child about doing the same
3. Apply bitter nail polish
Also a strategy used for aggressive nail biters, bad-tasting polish applied to the fingers can deter a thumb sucker.
4. Observe thumb-sucking patterns
If you notice your child only sucks their thumb before bedtime, they may just need another way to wind down and prepare for sleep. You may want to try offering a warm cup of milk or a toddler-safe herbal tea before nighttime teeth brushing.
5. Offer rewards and incentives
Reward systems can be tricky: They don’t work for all kids and, when they do, it can be hard to phase them out. Still, some kids are highly motivated by a visual representation of their progress (like stickers or small tokens), and the opportunity to earn prizes or privileges for every day they go without sucking their thumb.
Although most kids stop thumb sucking on their own before they enter kindergarten, you know your child best — and if you feel they need a little extra intervention, there are plenty of strategies and products that may help.
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