6 tips to help break your child’s thumb sucking habit

Thumb sucking is very common among babies and young children. In newborns it is a way to master the natural sucking reflex allowing them to feed and can grow into a comforting habit.

Beyond the toddler years, as a child’s jaw continues to develop and adult teeth begin to surface, persistent thumb sucking can become problematic. We have compiled a list of tips to help your little one to kick the habit.

When does thumb sucking become a problem?

Most children will stop sucking their thumbs or fingers between age two and four but for some the habit is harder to let go of. Parents with little ones using this common source of comfort beyond age five or six, when permanent teeth usually push through, may need to intervene.

Thumb sucking beyond this stage can cause a number of problems including changing the normal growth of the jaw and adult teeth alignment, which in turn can affect the overall shape of their face and even influence speech.

Kicking the habit

Parents of persistent thumb suckers, you are not alone so be kind to yourself and just tackle this challenge one step at a time. It is important to remember, like any habit, thumb sucking can take time to overcome and children can be forces to be reckoned with at any age. Don’t be too hard on them or yourself. You’ve got this!

Tips to help your child curb the thumb sucking habit

The Australian Society of Orthodontists offers these suggestions:

1. Reward

Start by encouraging your child to stop thumb sucking with lots of praise and support. Explain to them, in ways they can understand, the reasons why they need to stop and perhaps even introduce a rewards chart system as an extra incentive.

2. No Nagging

Persistent thumb sucking usually occurs because your child finds it comforting, which means nagging, criticising and dishing out punishments will likely only cause distress and could make the habit worse. If your child is particularly strong-willed, they may just become defensive and try to hide their habit.

3. Distract

Try offering an alternate source of comfort such as a toy. This can be offered as a distraction from thumb sucking at times when you have noticed the habit happens the most. For example, at bed time, in the car or at preschool.

4. Remind

As with most habits, we tend to do them without realising it, this is why it can be helpful to put reminders in place to help your child remember not to suck their thumbs. These could include unpleasant tasting nail polish, which can be bought from most chemists, or putting a bandaid or tape over their thumbs.

5. Be patient and persistent

The first few days will likely be the worst and just when you think you have their thumb sucking habit kicked, don’t be surprised if they relapse to their thumb sucking ways. Be patient and persistent and eventually you will find a way to overcome this hurdle.

6. Get help

If you have tried everything and the thumb sucking continues, it could be time to get some expert help. HIF Dr Emma suggests consulting a dentist for practical intervention as well as a child psychologist to make sure there is no underlying anxiety causing your child to seek comfort from thumb sucking.

We would love to know any other tips you’ve found worked for your thumb sucker.

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