Thumb sucking is a normal behavior that develops in many infants as a form of self-comfort. It is natural and healthy for infants to suck their thumb and often is a fool proof method for calming, provided that this habit decreases between ages 2 to 4. As children age, they may still be attached to their thumb and use it to sooth when they are stressed, tired or simply bored. Although the habit began harmlessly enough, children who persist in thumb sucking after their primary teeth come in, around age 6, risk the alignment of their teeth and jaw. Teeth alignment problems can also lead to speech impediments, and sometimes children who suck their thumb in school will be teased by peers.
Although you should not try to prevent your infant from sucking their thumb, if your child persists in sucking their thumb after their primary teeth come in it may be time to try and break them of the habit. There are different methods to break the thumb sucking habit, and paying close attention to when and why your child sucks their thumb will help you determine what will work best for your child.
• Don’t focus on it too much – Giving excess attention to the habit or harassing your child about thumb sucking can actually cause them to suck their thumb more.
• Reward/focus on its absence- If you child isn’t sucking their thumb, praise their effort to stop the habit or give them small rewards if they don’t suck their thumb in a situation they normally would. Sometimes the reward can be as simple as putting a star on the calendar for every day they go without sucking their thumb.
• Provide Distractions- If you observe your child sucking their thumb during a particular situation, such as driving in the car, watching TV or when tired, offer distractions. A new small toy in the car, finger puppets or an earlier bed time can help prevent your child from reverting to thumb sucking.
• Physical Reminders- Sometimes placing mittens on a child’s hand while sleeping can help them remember not to suck their thumb or putting a Band-Aid around the thumb.
Sometimes simply being patient and waiting out the habit is enough, most children will stop sucking their thumb on their own. If your child has been unable to stop sucking their thumb and their primary teeth are coming in, contact your pediatric dentist to assess the potential risks to their oral health and for more solutions.