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How can I Help my Child Stop Thumbsucking?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2019
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Thumbsucking is so natural and soothing to babies that many of them start doing it while still in the womb. Generally an infant sucking her thumbs is no cause for concern. Many will outgrow the habit, and most dentists suggest that problems tend to arise for older thumb suckers, those who are between the ages of four and six, when permanent teeth begin to emerge. The way a child sucks his thumb may matter too. A child who passively places a thumb in the mouth may not do much damage to the mouth and incoming permanent teeth placement, but a child who really sucks hard on the thumb is likely to cause dental problems or need for orthodontistry at a later point.

The first thing you can do to stop thumbsucking in older children, aged three and up, is to not guilt your child out about this behavior. Constantly embarrassing a child, begging or asking them to stop, or continued nagging of a child will not generally be helpful. In fact, children may increase this self-soothing activity if they feel stressed at home. Instead, you have to create an environment where you work with your child to stop thumbsucking behavior.

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Many parents find that children may respond well to authority when it comes to getting a child to stop thumbsucking. Scheduling a visit with a child’s orthodontist, dentist or doctor to explain to the child why thumbsucking can hurt the shape of the mouth can help. These explanations may need to be limited when a child is young and it may be best to save these explanations until a child is at least four.

It also helps a child to stop thumbsucking when you praise them for not continuing. A kid watching TV who is not sucking his/her thumb should be swept up in a big hug and praised for being a big kid. Children may also benefit from a rewards system, where certain benefits, gifts, special trips, or things a child really wants are earned when a child can go for a short time without sucking his thumb. As your child becomes more successful at avoiding the behavior, length of time between rewards gets longer. It may help to make a chart so children have a visual reminder of how well they are doing.

Making thumbs inaccessible may be an aid too. Bandaging the thumbs or placing tape on them can discourage or remind some children. During the day, it is beneficial to keep a child’s hands very busy. Give him or her plenty of building or drawing toys, clay to play with, or balls to squeeze. Try to avoid situations where thumbsucking occurs most often.

Bad tasting non-toxic nail polish may also help. Stricter measures involve covering hands with plastic thumb guards that attach to a bracelet, or getting an orthodontic device called a fixed palatal crib, which generally will stop thumbsucking cold. This is usually a last resort due to expense.

While working to stop thumbsucking, recognize this is not a habit that will end overnight. It takes time and patience, and should include the child as much as possible. With encouragement and consistency though, your child can usually break this habit.

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