How to Stop a Teen From Sucking His Thumb

By Tanya Gulliver
ok thumb #3 image by Adam Borkowski from

While it is common for children to suck their thumbs, the majority stop by age 4 or 5. Continuing to suck a thumb can damage teeth and reshape the jaw. This can lead to an overbite, misaligned teeth, speech problems and difficulty chewing. Older children and teens may also be teased for this behavior. As adults who try to stop smoking realize, breaking a habit can be very challenging. Luckily, a teen possesses the cognitive reasoning skills to understand why thumb-sucking is harmful. This can aid you in helping them quit. Brainstorm possible solutions with your teen and work together to create a plan for stopping.

Talk to your teen about his thumb-sucking, especially if this is a new behavior. Sucking a thumb can be source of comfort and may be an indicator of stress or depression.

Brainstorm avoidance techniques. Apply a bandage or a foul- tasting liquid deterrent to the thumb that gets sucked. Have your teen wear gloves to bed. The physical sensation will remind him to stop if he does it unconsciously.

Place your teen in front of a mirror. Show him how the thumb-sucking is affecting his teeth. Sitting him in front of a mirror for a few minutes a day while he sucks his thumb can create a biofeedback loop and inspire him to stop.

Praise him when he isn't sucking his thumb. While sticker charts work well for younger children, your older child still needs positive reinforcement. Offer an incentive for continued improved behavior such as an extended curfew or special treat.

Fill his time -- and his hands -- with another activity. Keeping his hands occupied keep them out of his mouth. This could include video games, Internet, board games, knitting or cooking.

Purchase a dental crib for your child. Known as a "fixed palatal crib," this brace sits on the upper teeth and roof of the mouth. It is fitted and installed by an orthodontist over a series of visits. The location of the crib makes it impossible for your child to suck his thumb in the usual manner. It is cheaper than standard braces but can help correct dental problems caused by thumb-sucking.

About the Author

Based in Toronto, Tanya Gulliver has been writing professionally for more than 20 years. She is pursuing a doctorate in environmental studies focusing on catastrophic disasters. She was first published as a pre-teen, co-writing a weekly events column for her local paper where her goal was to frequently mention her friends and family in the paper.