What Does Your Childs Thumb Sucking Mean? – What to Know

Is thumb sucking a big deal among children? You can only get to the bottom of this by understanding what leads them towards this habit….why?  Well, what we understand in our clinical research is that many children have underlying health issues that could be affecting their ability to give up their thumb or finger sucking habits.

According to child development experts, sucking is quite common among young children. In fact, it is believed that up to 90 percent of kids suck a thumb or finger during their infancy.

Here are five factors that can determine whether the act is still normal or already troublesome.

How old is the child?

Ideally, thumb sucking should stop naturally by the time a child reaches three years old.

For children who are still sucking after this age, it’s important to try some gentle discouragement and reminders.  However if this doesn’t have any impact, often it’s a good idea to get some further professional advice from your dental or oral health professional.

There are 3 ways that a health professional can assess the impact of the sucking habit on your child’s growth and development.

How often do they do it – Frequency

The more the child does it, the more likely that damage to the jaws and teeth can occur. Therefore, it is important to know about the frequency of your child’s habit. Does it occur during sleeping? In the car?  While watching TV or the iPad? Or does it seem like it happens all the time? Monitor how often they do it and for how long so that you can relay the information to the health professional.

How long is the child doing it – Duration

If the child is doing it for up to ten minutes before falling asleep, that won’t cause major damage to the teeth and jaws. In contrast, if they are sucking for 10 out of the 24 hours of the day, it’s a cause of concern and more likely to be causing damage.

How intense is the act – Intensity

Is the child’s thumb sucking done loosely or is he intense in performing it? Can you hear your child sucking – is it hard to pull their fingers and thumbs out of their mouth?  All of these things can point towards understanding the intensity of your child’s habit.

What’s happening around him?

Sucking a thumb or finger could be the child’s way to cope up with what’s happening in his life. Does your child experience stress at home or at school? Could it be about a traumatic event like divorce or violence? Or has your child experienced bullying at school by his classmates or difficulties in settling or learning? Specialized treatment is advised if any of the situations mentioned above are the trigger.

How to motivate a child to stop thumb sucking

The child’s family plays an integral role to help him cease the habit. It’s important to remember though that encouragement, not punishment is the key to helping these kids.

It’s fine to try techniques such as behavioural modification and rewards charts at home.  These can be helpful to correct or reduce an oral habit.


There is no universal solution to make a child stop thumb sucking. But the best approach is to start with assessing why it is still happening and if you need to, reach out to those who are experienced and see hundreds of children, just like yours.

We’re The Thumbsucking Clinic and we help kids to stop sucking their thumbs and fingers – get in touch today to see how we can help!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on google
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest