How to Support Your Child’s New Year’s Resolution To Stop Thumb Sucking

toddler sucking her thumb while her mother holds her.

One of the first things that babies have to learn in order to survive is how to feed, so thumb sucking practice can start from as early as in the womb. Once born, babies quickly discover that sucking their thumb is comforting and makes them feel better when they’re nervous or trying to get to sleep.

Most children have all but stopped thumb sucking naturally by the time they get to 4 years old, but for some the habit sticks, much to the dismay of their parents.

From the age of 6 onwards, thumb sucking starts to become more of a worry, as permanent damage to the child’s palette can start to take hold. The pressure of the child’s thumb in its mouth all the time can cause the palette to collapse inward, causing the permanent teeth to grow in misaligned or misshapen. This damage could result in the child needing costly orthodontic surgery and braces in their teens.  Thumb sucking can also cause the child to develop a lisp, or they can be teased by their classmates for looking babyish when they suck their thumb at school, so it’s best to try and nip the habit in the bud as soon as possible.

But how do parents go about stopping this kind of self-soothing, when their child’s ‘fix’ is permanently attached to their hand? Here are some tips to help with your child’s new year’s resolution to end thumb sucking once and for all.

 

1) Talk to them about it

Gently explain to your child that thumb sucking can make your teeth grow crooked and show them what you mean by doing your best bucked-tooth, Bugs Bunny impression. Make the conversation light, so as not to make them nervous. Ask them why they like to do it and at what times of the day, so you have a better idea of what their triggers are from their viewpoint.  Also have a word with your family and teachers, ask them to keep an eye on your child’s thumb sucking and report back to you.

2) Don’t nag

If you do see your child with their thumb in their mouth, don’t keep on at them about it and don’t try and force their hand away, this will only trigger their anxiety and lead to more thumb sucking. Methods like reminding the child that they are sucking their thumb and more importantly, praising them in the moments they’re not doing it is a good form of positive reinforcement that allows the child to notice their behaviour without it being seen as naughty.

3) Distraction

Keep your child’s hands busy throughout the day with plenty of ‘hands on’ activities like colouring, finger painting or playing with glove puppets.  Be aware of your child’s triggers and counteract any temptations to suck with distractions. For instance, if you’ve noticed that your child thumb sucks when he watches TV, give him a squashy toy to hold instead. Likewise, if your child does it when they’re hungry or tired, give them a snack or put them to bed a little earlier. If they do it when they feel uneasy, talk to them, encourage them to use their words instead of their thumbs.

4) Rewards

Using a system like the school reward charts that children are used to seeing every day in class, can help visually track the child’s progress at home. They gain a sense of achievement in following it, with stickers being awarded for every day that your child goes without sucking their thumb, culminating in a treat at the weekend.

5) Thumb guards

Thumb sucking guards are a type of glove that fits over the child’s thumb and palm to act as a gentle reminder that thumbs shouldn’t go in mouths. They come in a range of fun colours and designs and are machine washable. When used in conjunction with other methods of positive reinforcement like reward charts, thumb sucking gloves work really well and don’t cause the child any discomfort.

Have you got any tips or methods you use to support your child’s New Year’s resolutions? Share your comments below.

Bio: Louise Blake is a writer from Bath where she lives with her husband and baby boy. She likes to write about education and parenting issues for Carrot Rewards.

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