How To Stop Your Child Sucking Their Thumb

Tips on how to analyze why your child sucks his or her thumb, and how to help break the habit.

Thumb sucking is a habit that can cause not only physical problems but emotional problems as well. Although many kids suck their thumb out of nervousness, anxiety or boredom, it is a habit that can be, and should be broken.

Physical problems caused by thumb sucking include crooked or buck teeth, malformation of the fingers, and infections under the fingernail.

Emotional problems include low self esteem, nervousness, and teasing from other children. It is highly recommended you help your child break their thumb sucking habit before they begin school.

How to Help

Don't nag at your child to stop. Nagging makes him or her feel guilty and insecure, which in turn can increase thumb sucking instead of decrease it. Don't ignore it either, but be careful how you talk to your child about the subject.

Figure out why your child is sucking his or her thumb. Does he do it when he is nervous? Scared? Angry? Bored? Help your child to name and explain these emotions so he too knows when it is he starts sucking his thumb. This will make it easier for him to stop himself before he even starts.

Don't give your child a replacement for thumb sucking, such as a blanket or stuffed animal. Your child may either begun sucking on the item or be unable to part with it. It's not a good idea to replace one bad habit with another one.

Sit down and talk with your child. Let your child know why it is important for the thumb sucking to stop. Explain that it will damage his or her teeth and that other kids might tease him or her about it. Give him or her a reason to want to quit. Ask him or her what it is they would like you to do to help them quit. But remember, ultimately it is up to your child to break the sucking the thumb habit. You can not do it for him or her although you can offer plenty of support.

Don't pressure your child to quit during a high stress time of his or her life. If it's a busy holiday season or if other things have been going on that effect your child such as a death or divorce, hold off for a more calm, peaceful time.

Pick a deadline. Have your child help you pick this date, don't force one upon him, but also don't let him or her pick one that is 3 years away!

Reward when your child does well. Set up a system. Maybe you want to keep track of days or hours the child goes without sticking his or her thumb in his or her mouth. Maybe you want to set up a system that deals with the child recognizing his or her feelings and reward for every time the child comes to you and says, "I feel ______, but I didn't suck my thumb". Reward anyway you like but it's important to remember to be consistent.

Habits are hard to break whether you are a child or an adult. Perhaps you have a habit you could work on breaking the same time your child is. This gives both of you support, but don't make it conditional. Lots of words of encourage, hugs and a ton of love can go a long way to help your child break the thumb sucking habit.

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