5 Ways to Break the Thumb-Sucking Habit

Hiya mamas and papas.  I’m sure I’m not the only one of us who has had children with a thumb sucking habit.  According to my pediatrician, this self-soothing technique forms in children at a very young age, sometimes before they’re even out of the womb. Yet while baby thumb sucking is totally normal, what can you do to stop thumb sucking by preschoolers and gradeschoolers?  In case you’re concerned about this (like me!) I’ve compiled some tricks from my doctor and friends that I hope will help those trying to break the thumb-sucking habit!

5 Ways to Break the Thumb-Sucking Habit

How to Help Children Stop Thumbsucking

Ignore it: This may seem counterintuitive at first, but if your child is using thumb-sucking as a way to get your attention, not saying anything might help solve the problem!  Like food, thumb-sucking can become a power struggle and a way for your child to exercise his authority and autonomy, so try diluting this by leaving well enough alone.

Find the source: If ignoring it doesn’t do the trick, ask yourself whether your child’s thumb sucking is anxiety-related?  According to some experts, thumb-sucking is often a child’s way of self soothing and relaxing herself during an anxious or scary situation.  Try to spot the pattern surrounding your child’s habit — say, a scary book or movie, or going to bed in complete darkness — and to find a concrete solution to the problem.

Trick their taste buds: With this strategy, thumb sucking will leave a bad taste in your child’s mouth, literally. Many gel or liquid nail polishes are available in your local drug store or pharmacy to discourage thumb sucking and nail biting.  After you’ve applied the remedy, your child certainly will think twice about putting their fingers anywhere near their mouth.  These remedies also work for children who have a habit of nail biting!  Make sure any product you use is free of dangerous chemicals and safe for your little one.

Use positive, not negative, reinforcement: If the nasty nail polish strikes you as a bit extreme, try out the gentler route by encouraging your child with little rewards.  Let’s say your kids get through dinner or story time without reaching for his thumb.  Keep track of these victories with a sticker chart, a great positive reinforcement example based on earning a reward, or offer your child an extra 15 minutes of iPad or TV time, or just a simple bear hug!  I also find that keeping my child busy and active helps: she is less likely to suck her thumb at soccer or while making cookies, than if she is just lounging around.

Be patient and gentle: If thumb sucking has been a part of your child’s life since birth, he probably won’t be able to kick the habit overnight. Gently remind your child to stop, praise his progress, and avoid scolding or negative reinforcement. If you do notice your child sucking his thumb in public, try using a subtle cue or shared signal between the two of you to avoid embarrassment (i.e., a thumb’s up rather than a thumb in the mouth).

I’m personally hoping these little tricks will help my daughter break her thumb-sucking habit soon! Let me know if your child has had this problem too and if any of the tricks above helped the situation, or if you have other tips.

xo Melissa