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How to Stop Thumb Sucking in Kids

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Your baby may have started sucking his thumb while in the womb — possibly as early as 30 weeks. Babies and young children often put their fingers or thumbs in their mouths to calm them down, self-soothe, or help them fall asleep.

This habit is not harmful, although you may want to consider replacing a pacifier (which can be an easier habit to break than thumb sucking). By toddlerhood, thumb sucking usually goes away on its own. However, older children may be able to replace this habit with another, such as nail biting.

If thumb sucking is used as a coping skill, children will begin to develop other strategies between the ages of 2 and 4. If this behavior continues into the preschool years, the Problems can arise with both thumb sucking and pacifier sucking. If a child does not spontaneously give up the practice, it can lead to developmental problems in the mouth and voice.

Peer pressure at school often limits the habit by the time children reach school age, but the habit of thumb sucking often stops spontaneously earlier (between the ages of 2 and 4).

Potential dental problems from thumb sucking

Thumb and thumb sucking can affect a child’s mouth and jaw as early as 2 years old. Sucking puts pressure on the soft tissue of the roof of the mouth, as well as on the sides of the upper jaw. The pressure can cause the upper jaw to shrink, leaving the teeth unable to respond properly when the jaw closes. As a child sucks their thumb until they lose their baby teeth and grow their permanent teeth, a “bucket tooth” shape can develop.

Braces are an expensive solution to these problems. However, if a child stops sucking before the permanent teeth come in (usually around age 6), the changes in the mouth and teeth can go away on their own and don’t need braces to correct.

The severity of physical problems stemming from the habit depends on how well a child sucks his or her thumb. If they just put their thumbs in their mouths without really sucking too much, there’s less of a problem than if they’re active.

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Children who exerted more suction when sucking on a digit (you can hear a “pop” when the digit comes out of their mouths) were more likely to influence the development of their mouth and teeth than those who did not. the child just put one finger in. their mouth or suck lightly on it.

Follow up closely how your child sucks their thumb. Take action to curb this habit sooner if you notice your baby sucking vigorously.

A 2016 study published in Journal of Pediatric Dentistry found that calluses on thumbs or fingers from thumb sucking predict malocclusion — the imperfect position of teeth during jaw closure — in children.

Dentists have discovered that toddlers and preschoolers suck their thumbs often and hard enough to form calluses that are likely to develop dental and jaw diseases. However, the same study shows that when children stop sucking their thumbs by age 4, any dental or jaw problems can resolve on their own.

It is important to tell your child’s doctor and dentist about their thumb sucking habits. Early identification of problems is the key to solving them.

Although the two are sometimes thought to be linked, it’s not clear whether thumb sucking directly causes children to stutter. Some cases of slurred speech are actually normal at the age when thumb sucking is most likely (about 2 years of age).

How to solve thumb sucking

Ultimately, it’s up to your child to break the thumb sucking habit. That said, there are a few things parents should keep in mind as they try to discourage children from thumb sucking, as well as some strategies to try.

Calm

Yelling at or insisting on asking your child to stop sucking their thumb is not helpful. While you may be concerned about the potential damage they’re doing to your teeth or all the germs they’re putting in your mouth, being upset with a child is unlikely to lead to cooperation.

Create redirects

When you see your child sucking their thumb, make sure they do something with their hand (like giving them a stretch ball to squeeze). However, if your child sucks their thumb in response to anxiety, simply redirecting or giving them something to do will not be enough. You will need to address the source of their anxiety.

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If they suck their thumbs when they’re bored, encourage your child to color a picture, toss a ball back and forth, or to draw with their fingers—anything that keeps their little hands busy.

Offer a lot of praise

Instead of repeatedly indicating that they are thumb sucking and drawing attention to the behavior, try to reinforce and praise them when they do. Not suck their thumbs. You want to draw attention to behaviors you want to see — not behaviors you don’t.

Whenever you see your child take his thumb out of his mouth, praise him. Say something like, “Good job remembering to take your thumb out of your mouth” or “I noticed you were putting your hand in a toy today and taking your mouth out. You did a great job!”

You don’t want to pay too much attention to thumb sucking (your child may continue to do it or do more just to get your response). However, if your child is not even aware that they are doing it, you may want to point it out once or twice.

Teach new coping skills

Your child may suck his thumb in response to feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, or boredom. It is important to help them learn other strategies for handling discomfort.

Medicines and breathing exercises, listening to music or doing simple baby-friendly yoga poses can also help kids feel better and can replace thumb sucking as a way to cope.

Rewards

Positive reinforcement can motivate your child not to take his fingers out of his mouth. Create sticker charts and put stickers on at certain times of the day.

Even though you can’t stare at your child for 24 hours, you can say, “Here’s a sticker because you didn’t suck your thumb when we played that game.” If they need more than one sticker to stay on track, try offering bigger goals and rewards. “When you get five stickers, we’ll hang out at the park.”

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Tasting tricks

There are many stories of parents putting cayenne pepper or hot sauce on their children’s fingers in a desperate attempt to get them to stop sucking their thumbs. Taking extreme measures is not a good idea and it can be quite uncomfortable for children. You also don’t want to strip your child of a coping strategy before they’re ready to give it up.

You can try a little vinegar on your child’s thumb to make it taste different without being dangerous or harmful.

A very good word

If your child is still a toddler, the best thing you can do is be patient. Although it is annoying and sometimes disgusting to watch your child put his dirty thumb in his mouth. keep in mind that they will probably stop the behavior on their own when they are ready.

It can be stressful for parents to try to break the thumb-sucking habit in a child who doesn’t respond to their efforts. Remember that there is no one strategy to limit thumb sucking that will work for every child. You will need to be patient and work with your child to help him feel ready to stop sucking his thumb and to equip him with new ways of coping.

If your child is 5 years or older and still sucks their thumb, talk to your pediatrician or pediatric dentist about the next steps you should take.

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