Even before birth, babies have a strong survival instinct to suck, which can lead to thumb-sucking in the womb. If thumb-sucking continues past age 4, dental and social embarrassment might occur for a youngster, warns the Ask Dr. Sears website. Help your little one stop sucking her thumb, if necessary. With your assistance, you can avoid costly dental work for your child as well as protect her from teasing from other children.
Wait to intervene with your child’s thumb-sucking habit until after the age of 4 or 5, advises the Mayo Clinic website. After this age, the behavior could begin to affect your child’s palate and the way permanent teeth come in.
Sit with your child to talk about the thumb-sucking habit, suggests the WebMD website. Without threatening or confronting him about the behavior, simply suggest that soon it might be time to stop sucking his thumb and that you’ll be ready to help him if he wants help. If you see physical ramifications of the thumb-sucking, such as dental issues or a wrinkly thumb, call your little one’s attention to these issues to help him see the importance of stopping the habit. Tell your little one that you will start to call attention to the thumb-sucking when you see it to make sure he’s aware of what he’s doing (many children don’t even realize they are sucking).
Distract or entertain your child when you see her beginning to suck her thumb, recommends the Children’s Physician Network. You might read a book, play a game, give her a piece of modeling clay to manipulate or have her draw a picture.
Create a chart to track progress of time without thumb-sucking, and award stickers if your child makes it through a half-day or a whole day without sucking, suggests psychologist and author Susan Heitler, writing for Psychology Today. After your little one earns a specific number of stickers, give him a small prize or take him somewhere fun like the park or the zoo.
Remain patient with your child as she tries to stop sucking her thumb. If you become impatient or pushy, you could create anxiety for your child, which might make breaking this habit even harder. Realize that during times of stress and fatigue, your little one may have a harder time not sucking her thumb. Stay positive and encouraging as you help her break this habit.
Breaking the thumb-sucking habit at sleep time can be the most challenging part of the process, warns Children’s Physician Network. It might help if your child wears socks or mittens on his hands during the early stages of the process, because he won’t be conscious of sucking in his sleep.