Tips for Helping Your Child Break Their Thumb-Sucking Habit

Tips for Helping Your Child Break Their Thumb-Sucking Habit

As humans, we’re one of a handful of species to be blessed with opposable thumbs — and we certainly make good use of them. With your thumb, you can:

  • Tie your shoes
  • Use chopsticks (or forks, if you prefer)
  • Give a thumbs-up to show approval
  • Thumb your nose to show disdain
  • Hitch a ride (although we don’t recommend it)

Nursery rhymes have regaled the thumb as its own eating utensil (ever heard of Little Jack Horner?), and even Facebook® has immortalized the thumb as its most recognizable icon.

But for babies and toddlers, there’s only one good use for the tiny digit: thumb-sucking. In fact, babies and toddlers find the habit so soothing and relaxing, they’re often reluctant to give it up as they get older.

Joking aside, thumb-sucking might seem like an innocent habit — even cute. But studies show that if your child continues the habit for too long (like beyond age 4), it can cause oral health problems, including crooked teeth, bite problems, and issues with their palate (the roof of the mouth).

The team at Dental Kidz Club is dedicated to helping kids (and parents) do all they can to kick the thumb-sucking habit before it causes problems. If your preschooler is reluctant to leave their thumb-sucking behind, these tips can help.

6 tips to break the thumb-sucking habit

Before embarking on any habit-breaking endeavor, remember that it’s just as hard for your child to break a habit as it is for you. Use plenty of patience combined with these suggestions to help your child succeed.

#1: Talk about it

Your child may know you want them to stop sucking their thumb — but do they know why? Kids are smart. Explaining — in a non-scary way — how thumb-sucking can change the way their teeth grow could be all it takes to give your child motivation to quit.

#2: Learn about it

There are plenty of resources — books and YouTube videos, for instance — that you and your child can share. Combining a lesson with a little bonding time is a great way to get your child to engage, and it also helps them understand that you’ve got their best interests at heart.

#3: Look for triggers

Plenty of kids turn to their thumbs when they feel stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed. Others do it to relax before bed. By identifying when your child sucks their thumb, you can figure out alternatives that achieve the same goal, like a soothing bedtime routine or ways to minimize specific worries.

#4: Offer alternatives

Once you know what causes your child’s habit, you can offer simple alternatives. Look for activities that engage their hands, or offer a fidget toy or a favorite stuffed animal. 

#5: Use reminders

Like any habit, thumb-sucking can become automatic, and your child may not even realize when they’re doing it. Putting a small bandage on the end of the thumb gives your child a simple reminder that could be all they need to break the habit.

#6: Provide positive reinforcement (and rewards)

Keeping your thumb out of your mouth may not seem like a big deal to you, but to a child who derives comfort and security from the act, it can be nerve-racking. Always praise your child for their efforts. Keep a chart with colorful stickers to chart your child’s progress, and reward them with small tokens when they succeed.

You can do it!

With a little patience, you can help your child kick the thumb-sucking habit and avoid its associated risks. But if you need a little extra assistance, our team is always on hand to provide some gentle guidance for you and your child. To schedule a visit for your child, call or book an appointment online at our office in Brea, Corona, Covina, Riverside, Ontario, or Perris, California.

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