Thumb-Sucking and What to Do About It

How to Help Your Child Kick the Habit


I have a thumb-sucker. He’s only three, and it’s not something I see him do except when he is about to go to bed or first wakes up (when we’re watching a show or reading a book or something snuggly like that). But I also know a child in my daughter’s kindergarten class who is just shy of six who continues to suck his thumb—and I see him doing it on the playground and such. My former nanny tells me she sucked her thumb until she was nine years old, despite numerous attempts by her parents to get her to stop.

This is not something I’m very concerned about now, but I do wonder what causes some children to start sucking their fingers. My daughter, for example, never did this, and she never liked the pacifier, either. Why the difference? I also wonder if there are any problems with long-term thumb-sucking. So I did a little research, and here’s what I found (courtesy of WebMD):

Thumb-sucking is very normal in babies and young kids. You’ve probably seen your babies chew or suck on their fingers (or even their toes). This is very normal and a natural instinct. Makes sense why young kids also like pacifiers. Most kids do stop on their own between ages 3 and 6.

Thumb-sucking becomes a habit. At a certain point, sucking the thumb becomes less of a natural instinct and more of a habit that your child has trouble controlling. Your child could need assistance “kicking” the habit, just as an adult might need help quitting smoking or nail biting.

Long-term thumb-sucking can lead to dental problems. Thumb-sucking can push teeth outward (an overbite) or cause malocclusion, which is when the upper and lower teeth do not align when your jaw is closed.

Other problems can arise. Thumb-suckers can also develop speech problems, such as lisps and improper placement of their tongue when speaking. They also tend to develop dry skin on the thumb and/or a callus. And it probably goes without saying, but a ten-year-old who sucks his or her thumb at school unfortunately may face social implications, like teasing.

What can you do?

You probably don’t need to worry about your child’s thumb-sucking habit when he or she is a preschooler, but if your child is a habitual thumb-sucker beyond age four or five, he or she may need help stopping. Thumb-sucking at an older age can be problematic. Talk to your pediatrician and your dentist for ideas, but from what I’ve learned, the Thumbguard works for some, while a serious conversation with your child (and possibly, your child and his or her dentist or doctor) about the problems with this habit might work best for others.

I’d be interested to hear from parents who have similar experiences with thumb-sucking and if it became a big problem. For us, it’s something I almost forget about until I see my little guy doing it. I find it so interesting that it’s such a comforting thing to him that seems to help him fall asleep. Please share your experiences if you have them!

Michaele Charles is a freelance writer and a children’s writer living in Centennial, Colorado. She is the founder of Voice Communications, which serves colleges and universities, marketing and creative agencies, small businesses, and corporate clients around the country with their writing needs. She has an Inspiring Kids blog on her personal website, www.michaelecharles.com, and blogs for Front Range Community College. When she’s not writing, she’s hanging out with her two kiddos and husband.

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