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How to Break Thumb Sucking Habit

6 Tricks For Breaking the Thumb-Sucking Habit

I have a confession to make: I was a thumb sucker when I was a kid, and I remember how hard it is to kick the habit. While it's not uncommon for children to rely on their thumbs as a way to calm themselves well into the preschool years, many moms worry that their children's thumb sucking will become a long-term habit — and for good reason.

Long-term thumb suckers are at risk for speech delays and dental problems down the road. Case in point is the 9-year-old son of one mom, Jael S. She lamented, "He now has an overbite and his teeth are becoming crooked."

Why Kids Suck Their Thumbs

Most kids suck their thumbs because it's soothing. When babies suck on their mother's breast or a bottle, it provides comfort. As they grow into toddlers, they continue the sucking habit as a way to soothe themselves when they are tired, bored, or anxious.

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Connie S.'s experience confirmed this. She said her twins' thumb-sucking habits were their way of comforting themselves and that it was soothing for them. (Fortunately, they stopped the habit on their own at the age of 6 when their baby teeth began to fall out.)

When Does It Become a Problem?

The question on many moms' minds is: when does thumb sucking become a problem?

Some moms say it's when their child is the only thumb sucker left in their playgroup. They worry about the social implications. Barbara R. said of her two thumb suckers, "I didn't want kids to make fun of them."

For others, it's not as much about age as it is about health. Amanda G. is just one of many moms who said her daughter sucked her thumb so vigorously that it "got all blistered and bumpy and raw." Sara S. is concerned about all the germs her child ingests when she sucks her thumb.

How Can You Break the Thumb-Sucking Habit?

  1. Talk to your child. Explain what you're worried about. Kids respond better when they know why they are being told "no."
  2. Enforce thumb-sucking limits. Giving up the thumb all at once isn't easy for a child. Cathy C. told her 3-year-old that it was OK to suck her thumb in bed, but not anywhere else. The habit tapered off on its own.
  3. Provide a replacement coping skill. Like adults, kids find it hard to break habits if they don't have an alternative way of coping. Consider letting your child have a "lovey" or "fidget" to squeeze when they're anxious.
  4. Help your child recognize the habit. Sara S. said of her daughter, "I just reminded her about it every time I saw her doing it." Not all kids are conscious that they are sucking their thumbs, especially when they're bored or tired. Pointing it out can help them become more self-aware.
  5. Enlist your dentist's help. The American Dental Association recommends breaking the thumb-sucking habit before your child's permanent teeth come in (or before age 5). Your child's dentist can help explain how sucking their thumb can push those new teeth out of alignment.
  6. Tap an expert resource. Krista A. recommends the book Helping the Thumb-Sucking Child by Rosemary Van Norman. As she shared, "It talks about ways to help the child stop" and helped bring her first-grade son's thumb sucking to an end.

What Moms Don't Agree On

One thing Circle of Moms members do not agree on is whether or not to coat your child's thumb with bad-tasting products, a thumb-sucking cure called "taste aversion." Some say it's cruel and prefer to use a band-aid instead. Others say things like vinegar and Tabasco sauce worked well for their kids.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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bridgetgilmore bridgetgilmore 5 years
All three of my children were thumb/finger suckers. I was worried about how I was going to get them to kick the habit. My oldest (now 18) only sucked his thumb with his "blankie" as he grew older, the "blankie" was limited to bed time so too was the thumb sucking he eventually around 7 stopped all on his own. My other two weren't so easy and required some creative thinking. When my daughter was 5 and youngest son was three, I came up with the "Finger Fairy". She of course worked with the tooth fairy (thumb/finger sucking ruins the teeth). Because I could control the finger/thumb sucking during the day but during the night was the most difficult, I told my children that the "Finger Fairy" would watch them at night to see if they had their fingers in their mouths and if they didn't they would get a present (a dollar store item). Incredibly it only took ONE night for both of them. They both received a small present that first night and about a week later they were left a little larger present (a new cup filled with small items) as a congratulatory token. They are 11 and 12 right now and have not suck their fingers since!
Max50833 Max50833 5 years
As a mom of 3, 2 of which were finger/thumb suckers, middle dd liked a pacifier. The pacifier is WAY more easier to stop. Eldest dd (now 26 and about to be married - gulp!) sucked her forefinger, but gave it up when she went to sleep-away camp. The youngest (now 19 and in college) still sucks her thumb. She doesn't have a hand preference; if one thumb has been oversucked and is sore, or if she's writing or texting, the other thumb will do just fine (lol). I have tried everything. No one has ever teased her about it, sleep-away camp, overnights, no one, ever (or so she claims). In elementary school (I think it was 2nd grade), her teacher said if she sucked her thumb in class, her work wouldn't be accepted because teacher didn't want to handle a paper that may have saliva/bacteria on it; that didn't work either. As I type this, we're watching a movie on t.v. and she's snuggled up on the couch sucking away! I've seen her do it in the movie theater, in the car, and of course in her sleep. The dentist said she has a slight overbite, but her teeth are not crooked and she's on the dividing line about braces (as were her sisters) so we never got them braces and they're fine. Now she's in culinary school; she's taken the food sanitation and safety classes and is actually certified by the national organization. When she's wanted nicer nails (as for high school dances and proms, as well as her sister's wedding, she'll get acrylics or gels and pay for that out of her own pocket.) As long as she doesn't do it at school, at work, or at the wedding, I've become inured to it and decided there's nothing I can do. When she's ready to stop, she will.
SuzanneLove SuzanneLove 5 years
I sucked my thumb right up to my mid teens. Mainly when I was asleep, sometime when tired and watching tv. My poor mum tried everything from horrid tasting products, which were horrible to start with, but quickly got use to the taste, to taking me to see a friend who had lost a thumb in an accident and getting him to tell me thats what happens if you keep sucking your thumb. In the end I grew my nails and it hurt my mouth to put it in there. I was also a nail bitter, alot of anxieties I think, personally.
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