child-thumb-suckingThumb sucking is a very common habit among babies and toddlers. Babies have rooting reflexes that they are born with that can cause them to put their fingers, and everything else, in their mouths. This is a survival instinct that every child is born with. Because sucking is associated with the full, satisfied feeling they get from drinking a bottle, thumb sucking can quickly turn into a comforting tool or coping mechanism.

For most children, thumb sucking will wane between 2 and 4 years of age. As children start to become older, if they do not outgrow the habit, it is usually ended due to peer pressure at school. There many myths and stories circulating parent groups and the internet about the negative effects of thumb sucking and how to remedy this situation before your child starts school. Before you go on full attack against the thumb sucking habit, there are five facts about thumb sucking that you should know.

  1. Thumb Sucking Isn’t a Problem Until your child is 5- According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, treatment for thumb sucking isn’t even brought up until a child is still sucking their thumb rigorously at age 5.
  2. Treatment starts at home- There is no magic pill or remedy to get your child to stop sucking their thumb. When this habit has become ingrained, it is just as difficult to break as smoking, drinking, or nail biting, which many adults struggle with. Sometimes, the dentist can provide a mouth guard that will help reduce the effects of thumb sucking at night, such as the tongue pushing the tooth forward or affecting the palate of the mouth. Other than that, parental intervention is the only way to cure thumb sucking.
  3. Negative Reinforcement Doesn’t Work- You may have heard parents suggest covering your child’s fingernails in hot sauce, soap, or vinegar to try to dissuade your child from sucking their thumbs. This is not a proven or effective way to remedy the situation and is honestly downright mean. The child will not be able to overcome the habit with just one shot of hot sauce to their mouth and this technique can cause pain, stomach irritation, and discomfort. It can also negatively affect your child wanting to put anything in their mouth that they perceive as spicy, sour or otherwise yucky, and could lead to eating delays.
  4. Positive Correction is the Best- Some children are naturally rebellious which makes negative reinforcement even harder to use. With positive correction and reinforcement, children are given gentle reminders when they are seen with the thumb in mouth, rewards for not sucking their thumb, and praise when they correct the action on their own. This helps children to become more aware of their actions.
  5. Bring in the Professionals- Although there are no prescriptions to cure thumb sucking, taking your child to talk to a speech pathologist, dentist or their doctor, so that professionals can explain the reasons why your child shouldn’t thumb suck can work much better than you telling them. Kids are more inclined to believe and respect outside authority figures on matters that they would otherwise want to rebel against with their parents.

The most important thing to remember when you have a child that sucks their thumb is that this is an ingrained coping method. You will also need to try to identify any triggers that your child has for thumb sucking. If there is turmoil in the household, recent changes to schedules, something that scares your child, you want to get to the root cause of the problem to find a solution.