How to Help Your Child Break the Habit of Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is a common habit among many young children. When your child is a newborn, you’ll notice them sucking their thumb every now and then. As your little one grows older, however, it’s important to help them break the habit.

The question, then, is when is the right age for your child to stop thumb sucking? How will you go about breaking the habit? We’ll answer these questions in the next section.

Reason for thumb sucking

It’s important to understand why babies and toddlers suck their thumbs. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), babies have a natural urge to suck their thumb, given their natural rooting and sucking reflexes. Sucking is actually an essential and imperative reflex for babies, as it allows them feed and get nutrition…this sets up a neural pathway for sucking to be a comfort…thus babies tend to suck thumbs and fingers to self soothe.

This sucking motion comes naturally with their need to eat. Apart from this, thumb sucking makes babies feel secure. This is why they tend to suck their thumbs when they need to go to sleep or they’re in need of soothing. The worry is when they develop the habit of sucking even as they become toddlers.

Usual age for thumb sucking

Babies naturally suck their thumbs until they become toddlers. If you’re lucky, your child will cease their thumb sucking sometime between the ages of two and four. That being said, even if your child doesn’t regularly suck their thumb, they might have the tendency to go back to the habit when put in stressful situations as a coping mechanism.

Some little ones fail to break the habit themselves at all. This can be because of simply habit or addiction, or other health issues may be at play. These toddlers will have a hard time giving up thumb sucking even when they are already two years of age and above.

The right age to intervene

At this point, the question you should be asking is, when is the right time for parents to intervene and help their child cease their thumb sucking? Some experts suggest that parents should address sucking habits before the age of three.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that treatment is typically conducted for children who continue to suck after turning five years old, however in our opinion, this is too late. Parents should be aware of the habit earlier than this and be working on reducing it from the age of three.  If not addressed, sucking habits can affect the roof of the mouth and the way the teeth line up and are spaced. In the end, it may impact your children’s overall oral structure.

Effective ways to break the habit

It’s important to encourage your child to stop thumb sucking. How do you go about doing this? Below are some effective ways to help your child break the habit of thumb-sucking:

Positive reinforcement: The first thing that you can do is to use positive reinforcement. This entails praising your child or providing small rewards when he or she is no longer sucking their thumb. For instance, you can reward your child with an extra bedtime story or a trip to the park when he or she has remembered to avoid sucking his or her thumb all day.

Trigger identification: It helps to identify the triggers that cause your child to suck their thumb. Chances are your child is sucking his or her thumb in response to stress. In this case, identify the root cause of the problem and offer the appropriate alternative comfort that thumb sucking provides. You can hug your child or give them warm reassurance. Perhaps give him or her a soft pillow of stuffed toy for support and comfort. There are plenty of ways to offer comfort — just find what works best for your little one.

Gentle reminders: Please be reminded that you have to remind your child to stop thumb sucking gently. Scolding, criticizing, or ridiculing your child won’t help. Remember — your child is at a vulnerable age. Be firm, but be loving and keep reminding them that quitting the habit is the healthy thing to do.

We’re a thumb sucking clinic that helps to resolve sucking habits among little people – get in touch today to see how we can help!

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