How To Stop Your Kid's Thumb-Sucking Habit

How To Stop Your Kid's Thumb-Sucking Habit

Is your child a thumb-sucker and are you looking for ways to help her break the habit? We bring you some great ideas on how to stop that pesky little thumb from going anywhere near her mouth! Keep reading to find out more...

Do you have a thumb-sucker at home?

I do (except that he’s more of a pointer-and-middle- finger-sucker!) and I’m starting to wonder how to help him break the habit. I know he’s not going to be sucking his fingers anymore when he’s 18… but, like all parents, I get anxious.

I’m sure there are plenty of other mums out there with toddlers who are really attached (literally!) to their thumbs/fingers. So how do we get them to stop?


How to stop your kids’ thumb-sucking habits: We all know that even very small babies suck their thumbs as a source of comfort.

We spoke to Dr Scott Chao of Dental Icon for his opinion on how prolonged thumb-sucking may affect a child’s teeth and jaw development.

Here’s what he has to say:

Thumb sucking by toddlers and young children can affect the development of the oral cavity. The most ideal shape of the dental arch is called “The Roman Arch” (i.e., similar to the architectural design of The Coliseum and ancient Roman aqueducts).

Extended thumb sucking will exert a force forward, thus pushing the development of the upper dental arch forward. As a result, studies have found that thumb suckers will have a more protruded arch (longer), deeper palate, and narrower width.

This will lead to malocclusion, which may affect a child’s appearance, bite, and even result in speech difficulties. Thus, it is highly recommended to discontinue this habit to prevent digit sucking related malocclusion.

Why do kids suck their thumbs?

Experts say thumb-sucking is a natural instinct, with many babies doing this even in-utero. Sucking soothes sore gums during teething, and is often a baby’s first way to self-calm.

Dr William Sears says during the first year, smart infants figure out that sucking their thumb settles upset tummies by activating the flow of saliva.

Dr Sears explains that infants identify sucking with pleasure, so they sustain the habit throughout toddlerhood, and return to it especially during times of stress. This need to suck usually reduces sometime during the first year, and by the age of 3, most kids drop the habit altogether.


As your child grows older, her thumb-sucking habit should gradually reduce or stop altogether

However, there are some situations where your child’s thumb-sucking habit may need to be slowed down or stopped, such as:

  • If she’s sucking for most of the day and night, which is more damaging to her mouth and teeth than just the occasional slurp;
  • if she’s having trouble speaking, playing, or interacting with friends because her hands and mouth are always busy;
  • if her dentist is concerned about problems with her oral development.

If you think you need to activate a plan to stop your child’s thumb-sucking, here are some ideas that will help.

Say good-night to the thumb

According to pediatricians, the worst cases of overbite occur when kids suck their thumb through the night.

They recommend discouraging or not permitting your child to fall asleep while sucking her thumb, as it’s highly likely that upon waking up, she will start sucking her thumb again.

Here are some tips to help your child say good-night to the thumb:

  • Give her a teddy bear or other soft toy that is so large that she has to wrap her arms around it, preventing her from popping her thumb in her mouth.
  • Put her to bed with her hands occupied with a toy or book.
  • Try sleep-inducing props such as soft music/lullabies. You could even record a medley of you singing her favourite songs and play it softly through the night.

Provide alternative sources of comfort for your child, especially at night

Keep little thumbs (and fingers!) busy

More often than not you will notice that your child’s thumb or finger/s wander towards his mouth when he is bored.

The best thing to do is to ‘distract and substitute’. As soon as you see your kid’s thumb moving towards his mouth, quickly place a toy in both hands, or offer a different hands-on distraction.

Don’t turn it into ‘The Battle of the Thumb’

Avoid turning your child’s thumb-sucking habit into a confrontation. Without telling your child she can’t suck her thumb anymore, praise her during the instances when she doesn’t suck it.


The moment you see that sneaky little thumb going near your child’s mouth, quickly distract her with a toy!

Use your imagination!

Come up with creative ways to try stop your child’s thumb-sucking habit.

Ask your little boy if he has ever seen Bob the Builder or Spiderman sucking his thumb. Likewise, ask your little girl if she has seen Dora or Barbie (or whoever else she likes!) sucking her thumb.

Show them gross pictures of germs

If you have an older child who cannot seem to stop sucking her thumb, show her pictures of yucky germs and tell her that every time she sucks her thumb, she could be eating and swallowing millions of those disgusting germs.

No foul-tasting products

There are plenty of thumb-sucking deterrents in the form of nasty concoctions that you can buy and apply on your child’s thumb/fingers. Your mother or grandmother may even tell you to rub chilli on your child’s thumb.

But do avoid using these foul-tasting formulas as it’s cruel to do so and may even traumatise your child. Many Netizen mums recommend wrapping the offending digit in a band-aid instead, which helps discourage the child from thumb-sucking.

Call in the experts

Ask your dentist for help if nothing else seems to work. Many dentists recommend stopping thumb-sucking before your child’s permanent teeth come in.

Your child’s dentist could explain how thumb-sucking could push those sparkly new teeth out of alignment and make them all crooked. They may also be able to provide you with more tips for deterring thumb-sucking.

According to Dr Scott Chao who explains the effects of prolonged thumb-sucking on the first page of this article, some possible treatment options are dental appliances (where a metal appliance is bonded directly to the teeth to act as a deterrent when the thumb is in the mouth) or behavior modification therapies.

Dr Chao believes that best way to stop thumb-sucking is persistent positive behavior reinforcements from vigilant parents.

Parents, remember that more often than not, your child will outgrow his thumb-sucking habit when he’s ready. When that happens, you’ll look at those cute pictures of your baby sucking his thumb and wonder how he grew up so fast!

Share your tried-and-tested ways of stopping thumb-sucking with us by leaving a comment.


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