Quitting Thumb-sucking Is TOUGH.

Quitting thumb-sucking

It’s a behavior that drives Grandmas crazy, can cause social isolation and makes dentists shudder. Yet in the first year of life, nearly 75% of babies happily indulge in it and benefit from it. Thumb-sucking or finger-sucking can begin before birth, and sucking will help your child self-soothe and calm their upset feelings, provide security and help them relax and focus.

When your child is under the age of 5, it’s best to ignore the thumb-sucking entirely because most children will drop the habit on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. Only 20% of thumb-suckers will keep the habit past kindergarten, but in these cases, it’s time to gently intervene – and Dr. Alzein is here to help.

When your child continues to suck thumbs and fingers after age 5, a myriad of physical challenges can develop. Minor problems include callused or shriveled fingers and thumbs, stunted nails and cracking skin, especially in the winter. The most serious (and expensive) problem is the malformation that sucking causes to the mouth and teeth.

Sucking damages tooth line-up, constricts the upper jaw, changes the structure of facial muscles and creates an overbite with a space between the upper and lower teeth. In turn, this will cause speech difficulties in “tongue touch” sounds such as “S”, “T”, “D”, “N”, “Z” and “L”. These problems can result in large orthodontist and speech therapy costs, so it would be worth it to stop this early. Take them into a local pediatrics facility and get it taken care of.

How can you help your child stop thumb-sucking? A few “don’ts” first:

  • Don’t pull your child’s thumb out of their mouth. This will encourage more sucking.
  • Don’t nag your child. This will turn into a power struggle where your child will suck more in private.
  • Don’t let relatives or friends shame or embarrass your child. Sucking is a physical and emotional addiction and your child needs help and support, not emotional discomfort during this time.

So what should you do to encourage them to stop thumb-sucking?

  • First, set aside a quiet time to speak to your child. After the age of 5, your child can work to break the habit – and understand why it’s important to do so. Ask them why to think about when and why they suck and make note of those triggers. Gently explain the physical repercussions of continuing to suck and how uncomfortable and long-term braces and other devices can be.
  • Brainstorm with your child about how you can both work together to break the habit. Would it help to hold a stuffed animal or blanket? Would sitting on their hands be a good solution when watching TV? Would gloves or mittens worn at night help unconscious sucking? Would wearing a bandage, perhaps with a favorite character, on the finger or thumb, 24/7 for a few weeks break the habit?
  • Put together a progress chart and determine rewards. Build-in space for slip-ups, especially in the first week or two, with fewer sucking instances allowed as time goes on. Put a gold star or bright sticker on each day and night of “no sucking”.
  • Keep an eye on the triggers and be ready for them. If your child tends to suck in the car, provide an activity that keeps hands busy, like coloring or solving a Rubik’s cube. If your child tends to suck in stressful situations, make sure you’re near to give hugs or hold hands.
  • Be ready for a stronger intervention. The longer your child has sucked, the tougher the habit will be to break. If your child has been trying for four or more weeks and just isn’t making progress, they may need a special split on finger or thumb, an insert for the mouth or a bitter substance to coat finger or thumb to make sucking unpalatable.

When your child is over 5 years of age and is having trouble giving up sucking, make an appointment with Alzein Pediatrics medical professionals. We’ll help discover the cause of the sucking and guide you and your child to a healthy quitting solution. Within a month or two, your child should be thumb and finger free – and won’t Grandma be delighted about that?

Call 708-424-7600, or click here to make your thumb-sucking cessation appointment today!

About the Author
Newsletter Icon
Get Our E-Newsletter