Thumb-Sucking: Helping Your Child Stop
What is an Actionset?
Many infants and young children calm themselves by sucking their thumbs. While most children will stop on their own between ages 3 and 6, some continue past the age of 4 or 5. Prolonged thumb-sucking can lead to serious dental and speech problems. By using lots of love, encouragement, and a few simple steps, you can help your child succeed in breaking the thumb-sucking habit.
Return to topic:
Prolonged thumb-sucking can lead to dental, speech, and self-image problems.
In rare cases, thumb-sucking after age 5 is a response to an emotional problem or other disorder, such as anxiety. Children with this type of problem need to be evaluated by a doctor.
Test Your Knowledge
Thumb-sucking is bad for all children and should be stopped.
Thumb-sucking that continues for years may cause a child to develop dental problems. Thumb-sucking can cause a child's teeth to become improperly aligned (malocclusion) or push the teeth outward, sometimes malforming the roof (upper palate) of the mouth. Malocclusion usually corrects itself when the child stops thumb-sucking. But the longer thumb-sucking continues, the more likely it is that orthodontic treatment will be needed to correct any resulting dental problems.
A child may also develop speech problems, including mispronouncing Ts and Ds, lisping, and thrusting out the tongue when talking.
In addition, a child may be teased or shamed by others if he or she continues to thumb-suck as an older child.
Test Your Knowledge
Thumb-sucking after a child is 4 or 5 can cause improper teeth alignment (malocclusion).
Motivate your child by talking to him or her about why it is important to stop thumb-sucking. Explain that stopping will help him or her have a beautiful smile and nice teeth. Let your child know that continuing will cause problems with how his or her teeth grow.
Make sure you choose the right time to have this discussion. Children often suck their thumbs to relieve stress. Picking a stress-free time will help the child succeed. Also, a child probably needs to be 4 or 5 in order to understand your reasoning and to be able to cooperate in this process.
What are some practical ways to help my child quit?
Throughout this process, provide empathy and encouragement, and be available for your child. Acknowledge that this is a difficult habit to break. If you are consistent, patient, and positive, your child will be more likely to succeed. Remember this is your child's habit to break, and he or she must be willing to cooperate. Do not force your child to comply.
Should I give my child rewards?
Rewards are a great way to motivate your child. If you reward your child often and regularly for not thumb-sucking, he or she is more likely to succeed.
What if my child can't break the habit?
Test Your Knowledge
It is okay to use rewards as a way to help my child stop thumb-sucking.
If my child is having difficulty remembering to stop thumb-sucking, it is okay to:
Embarrass my child in front of others to get him or her to quit.
Use special reminders, such as a bandage, special fingernail coating, or a device (such as a thumb guard) from the dentist.
Punish the child by taking away privileges.
None of the above.
Nighttime thumb-sucking is more difficult to stop. I should:
Let the child comfort himself or herself with a favorite toy or stuffed animal while falling asleep.
Be patient while my child is learning to break the habit.
Carefully remove my child's thumb from his or her mouth after the child has fallen asleep.
All of the above.
Now that you have read this information, you are ready to help your child break the thumb-sucking habit.
Talk with your child's doctor
If you have questions about this information, take it with you and discuss it with your child's doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins where you have questions.
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
To learn more visit Healthwise.org