7 Effective Ways To Get Your Child To Stop Sucking Their Thumb

How to stop thumb sucking

How do you stop your child from sucking their thumb? Thumb sucking is a reflex that many babies and toddlers have. It is some sort of survival instinct. Some children suck their thumbs more at bedtime because it helps them to fall asleep.  Despite its seemingly harmless nature, thumb sucking can have a detrimental impact on a child’s oral development after age 4.

It is estimated that 90% of babies sucking their thumbs do so for reasons other than nutrition. The number of people over 4 years old who still suck their thumbs is about 15%.

Causes of Thumb Sucking

As well as being comforting for babies, this can also be helpful for toddlers. When thumb sucking occurs at an older age, it may indicate that the child is experiencing emotional difficulties.

Rather than intervening at an early age, parents should allow this behavior to dissipate and disappear over time without intervention.

 It is common for pediatricians to worry about how thumb sucking will affect teeth. When a child still sucks his thumb as the adult teeth come in, he may develop an overbite, which can be visible and can also affect his speech.

How Thumb Sucking Affects Kids’ Teeth

It is common for children to suck their fingertips or thumbs, especially infants and toddlers who might use their thumbs as a source of self-comfort. As children reach school age, they generally stop sucking their thumbs. However, some children continue to practice the habit.

In addition to the lack of overlap between the upper and lower front teeth, this habit has other side effects as well. It can also delay the eruption of permanent incisor teeth in the front.

When To Be Concerned About Your Child Sucking Their Thumb

As your child gets older and as long as the habit continues, the sucking will become more frequent, and its side effects will be more evident. Every child has different needs, so it’s important to assess them.

The emotional readiness of some children to stop sucking their thumb at age 5 or 6 may not be there.

If the habit of thumb-sucking is not getting any better as the child gets older, it could be that your child is not reaching milestones as they should, or something physiological may be impacting them. An assessment is therefore a good idea so you know if there are any underlying issues that are causing the habit.

Related: Baby Grinding Teeth: What You Need to Know

What To Avoid When Trying to Break The thumb Sucking Habit

Use a friendly tone instead of a fear-inspiring one such as “stop sucking your thumb now” or “from now on you won’t ever do it again”. Avoid saying these things or any other things that inspire fear as it would only make things worse.

When To Intervene

As a child grows, many changes happen in his or her life. If he or she is going to daycare for the first time, they may feel more nervous or anxious, resulting in more vigorous thumb sucking. Trying to get a child to give up a habit without dealing with the underlying triggers might end up causing them more stress and making the process harder.

When the thumb sucking doesn’t improve, it’s worthwhile to investigate the underlying triggers that cause the child to suck her thumb more when she feels stressed or anxious.

This habit can be addressed by pediatricians by conducting an assessment.

How To Stop Thumb Sucking

Getting a child to cooperate requires explaining what sucking their thumbs will do to their teeth. A child may need reminders to avoid putting the thump in his mouth.

It’s crucial to explain to the child the consequences of sucking their thumbs so that they will cooperate. A very important point is that the child understands that this is not a punishment.

By rewarding them for sucking their thumbs less than usual, you can prevent them from sucking their thumb.

At What Age Should a Child Stop Thumb Sucking?

By 36 months or 3 years of age, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children stop all non-nutritious sucking habits.

 What Happens to Teeth from Thumb Sucking?

When a child sucks their thumbs for a long period of time, it can affect the development of his or her teeth and lead to misalignment of his or her teeth.

How to stop Thumb sucking

Side Effects of thumb Sucking: Dental and facial development

  • During thumb sucking, pressure is applied against the backside of the upper front teeth, which leads to the upper teeth tilting forward. This is called protrusion. A person’s upper front teeth may tilt outward, while their lower front teeth may slant inward.
  • An upper front tooth that protrudes more than the bottom tooth is known as a class II occlusion.   because of this type of misalignment. It may also lead to an open bite, in which the upper and lower front teeth don’t touch when a child bites down.
  • Thumb sucking can also narrow and deepen the roof of the mouth, potentially leading to crossbites and crowding. There is a possibility that the child may end up developing posterior cross-bite, which refers to the upper back teeth biting down inside the bottom back teeth rather than the other way around.
  • Crowding of the teeth can occur in children with narrow upper arches when they have their permanent adult teeth. 
  • The harmful effects of thumb-sucking can persist even after you stop doing the habit.

Most children will stop the thump-sucking habit on their own between the ages of 2-4, but it is possible for children to suck their thumb beyond the age of 5.

How To Help Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking

Regardless of the age of the child, parents and guardians should never scold or criticize them for thumb sucking. When a child feels anxious or stressed, thumb sucking can have a soothing and calming effect, so forcing this habit to go away could only cause more stress, making it harder to kick the habit.

  1. Positive reinforcement is recommended as a starting point. The concept of positive reinforcement refers to providing a desirable stimulus that encourages the desired behavior.
  2. It is very important that you set realistic goals with your child for this to work. In the event your goals aren’t realistic, it won’t take you long to realize that your approach is ineffective.

Refrain From Being Forceful

3. When you take the approach of being forceful towards your child, you might actually end up giving them the impression that they have failed, which is definitely not what you want. The goal of this approach is to gradually stop thumb sucking completely.

4. If the child is older than 4 or 5 years old and parents are concerned about the child’s thumb sucking. It is recommended to start by having a conversation with a child and explain to them what could happen if they don’t stop the thumb sucking.

Set Realistic Goals

5. Your child’s involvement should be included in setting realistic goals. By setting the goals your child helped come up with, the child will be motivated to reach them.

6. Another effective approach is to show your child pictures of what might happen if they keep sucking their thumbs.

7. The reward can be either their favorite stickers or something else you agree on with them, depending on the child’s preference

Final Thought

The natural reflex of babies to suck their thumbs has calming and soothing effects on them. It may also help them fall asleep faster.

Talking calmly to your children, listening to them, and providing them with the support they need is a highly recommended practice when trying to help your child stop sucking their thumb. In the event that none of these measures work and the habit does not improve, you may need to contact the child’s primary care doctor or their dentist for assistance. An assessment can be conducted by pediatricians to address this habit.

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