The world we live in is full of ups and downs. Luckily, we have coping mechanisms to help us get by. But what happens when our coping mechanisms turn from harmless and helpful, to a habit that’s difficult to break?

While thumb sucking is a less harmful habit than others, it can be indicative of underlying issues. This is especially true if it remains a habit when they are old enough for school. For more information about thumb sucking and how to get your child to stop, continue reading.

When do babies start sucking their thumb?

Thumb sucking is one of the first habits that we develop. According to a study done by M.D. Lynn Davidson at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, thumb sucking is present in fetal life as early as 29 weeks into pregnancy.

The same study reported that 10-30 percent of infants engage in thumb or finger sucking until the time they are 4, at which point only 12 percent of infants continued to engage in the habit.

Why do kids suck their thumbs?

There are many hypotheses about why kids suck their thumbs. Some believe that babies suck their thumbs in the womb to help soothe them during stressful times. Others believe it to be an innate action that develops into a habit or learned behavior.

What happens when you suck your thumb?

Thumb sucking can cause blisters, deformed teeth, sensitivity on the roof of the mouth, and lead to bacteria-related issues. Most of these concerns can be reversed with proper dental hygiene if the habit is kicked before adult teeth come in.

When should your child stop sucking their thumb?

There is no study that states when a child should stop sucking their thumb, however it is observed that most children have quit by the time they are 4 or 5 years old.

For children that are older and continuing the habit, it can be a sign of psychological issues that trigger the thumb sucking to occur. If the children’s health becomes a factor, then it’s time to try some creative ways to get your child to stop sucking their thumb.

How to encourage your child to stop thumb sucking

Open communication is the key to helping your child overcome their habit of sucking their thumb. Scolding them can reverse the progress they’ve made and reinforce the thumb sucking ritual.

Often enough, if the parents forget about or stop paying attention to their kid’s thumb sucking habits, their child will break the habit by themselves. If you’ve tried ignoring the habit but your child is still sucking their thumb, here are some other effective techniques to try:

Positive reinforcement
When you notice your child isn’t sucking their thumb, it’s time to praise them with positive reinforcement. Try using a calendar and put stickers on each day that thumb sucking was avoided or reward the child with nonfood items to help bolster their pride.

If thumb sucking is occurring several times a day, then give positive reinforcement when the child decreases their frequency of the habit. Start with attainable goals and praise your child’s good behavior when they aren’t sucking their thumb.

Identify triggers
While some children suck their fingers out of innate habit, others engage in the ritual to overcome stress. If your child is sucking their thumb in response to stress, identify the trigger and comfort them.

Use gentle reminders
Rather than criticizing your child for thumb sucking, it’s best to use gentle reminders to get them to stop. For example, remind them of all the fun activities they can do with their fingers like painting and coloring. Sometimes it’s better for kids to come to the conclusion on their own.

What to use to stop thumb sucking

If you have tried the above techniques with no success, there are other options to try. Technology has advanced the way we treat dental problems, including thumb sucking. Today, there are technologies that make it easier for a child to transition away from sucking their thumb including thumb sucking guards.

A thumb sucking guard is a hand brace that locks at the wrist and blocks the thumb from being able to get into the mouth. Its bulky appearance prevents your child from sucking their thumb out of habit and reminds them to keep it out of their mouth. Ask your dentist about thumb sucking guards to see if it’s a good fit for your child’s habit.

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As great as these solutions are for some kids, they may not work for everyone. In some circumstances, these methods can make it more stressful for the child to overcome the habit on their own.

If you notice the habit is getting worse, talk to your dentist or pediatrician about other ways to stop thumb sucking before there are any negative impacts on your child’s smile.

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