How do you get rid of your child thumb sucking?

How do you get rid of your child thumb sucking?

The rooting and sucking reflexes in babies cause them to instinctively put their fingers or thumbs into their mouth. Thumb sucking gives them a sense of security and helps them soothe themselves when going to sleep.

This behaviour can start as early as within the fetus (as early as the 29th week of gestation), to when their teeth erupt, it puts pressure on their teething gums and provides relief. It may also reduce anxieties and satiate the need to be stimulated orally when they are not breastfeeding.

Most children stop sucking their thumbs without any intervention, often by 7 months or up to 2-4 years. But even then they might relapse into sucking their thumb when under stress.

By toddlerhood, thumb sucking behaviours taper on their own, but some may be replaced by other habits to cope such as biting their nails, or through developing language skills and pressure at school, typically ends this habit. However, if the practice does not stop naturally, it can lead to developmental issues in the child’s mouth or in their speech.

Why intervene?

Thumb sucking is not particularly harmful until the child’s permanent teeth come in, this can then affect the palate or teeth alignment. The risk of dental problems is often associated with how long and hard the child sucks on their thumb.

Even at 2 years of age, sucking a finger applies pressure on the roof of the child’s mouth as well as the sides of the jaw. This can cause the jaw to become narrow and prevent teeth from the meeting when the jaw is closed, this might call for braces or cause speech problems. As the child grows, a gap between the two sets of teeth can also develop. The structure of the jaw can change and affect the development of the tongue muscles as well. Thumb sucking can also cause an overbite (buck teeth) because of the thumb being forced against the side of the front teeth.

thumb sucking can hurt the skin

Not only dental problems, but vigorous thumb sucking can hurt the skin of the fingers as well, causing calluses and bleeding which is susceptible to infections. Sucking their thumbs may also begin to become a cause for teasing amongst their peers who don’t do so anymore. As it becomes socially unacceptable, your child may feel insecure or troubled about doing so when their friends don’t.

A child may not understand the consequences of their habit, initially, you can just explain why thumb sucking is bad for them and their teeth. This may warn them and help them understand why they should stop.

Acknowledging the behaviour and letting your child decide they want to stop is likely to work better, so let them choose the method to stop. To best encourage them, there are a few methods:

Rewarding: Positive reinforcement works much better than punishment. Praise the child or provide small rewards when they do not indulge in thumb sucking. Let them explore other habits to replace it, create a sticker chart to encourage the unlearning of this habit and give them a sticker for every day they manage to stave off the desire.

Triggers: Thumb sucking is often in response to stress, a way of coping. By identifying the underlying cause of the behaviour, you might be able to comfort them in other ways.

Teach them new coping skills and strategies to deal with uncomfortable feelings, like listening to music, crafting something, painting, etc. that will keep them occupied and calm. Before entering a stressful situation, you can even give them a stress ball or give them any activity that makes use of their hands.

Reminders: When your child inevitably forgets or unconsciously puts their thumb in their mouth, just gently remind them to stop. Do not scold or criticize them, if you give it too much attention they may do it just to see your reaction.

Sometimes it’s better to divert their attention to something else, like making them wear jewellery, at the times you know they have the urge to suck on their thumbs or make them draw, paint, etc.

Aversion and avoidance: If simple encouragements aren’t moving your child to stop sucking on their thumb, you can purchase a thumb cover or finger gloves. This may limit the child from putting their thumb in their mouth, but it also hinders their play.

For kids who just unconsciously put their thumbs in their mouth, applying nail polish that tastes bad or pepper on their fingers can be done. These are measures that can hurt the child however and it might even be harmful to take away their coping mechanism before they are ready to let it go.

Avoid child thumb sucking

You may also apply Neem paste to his nails during the night when asleep so that he will not bite because of the bitter taste. Its bitter taste can help your child to minimize this habit of biting nails.

Patience: Before following through with the pepper or vinegar, it is most important to be patient. This might be frustrating or worrying to see your child suck on their thumbs, but they’re likely to stop on their own when they are ready to give it up. If the child doesn’t respond to your efforts and is five years, talk to a pediatrician or dentist that could motivate your child and make them aware of the troubles of continuing this.

The same methods don’t work for every kid, some are indifferent to reward systems while others are motivated by information on how it could affect them. Depending on what your child is more receptive to, choose a method and encourage them to quit the habit.

1. Thumbsucking is normal and curious behaviour that usually stops by 4 years of age.
2. Continuing this habit when teeth come in can be harmful to their teeth, jaw, and speech.
3. Encourage your child to stop by rewarding their efforts or reminding them.
4. Usually, in school, peer pressure will push them to stop, if not other methods can be used. Such as thumb covers or bad tasting nail polish.
5. It is important to be patient with them but also keeps them from doing lasting damage to their teeth.

Why intervene?




Aversion and avoidance


Thumb sucking behaviours

child thumb sucking


Malathi A Ganesh is a B. Com Graduate, NTT, M.A (Lit), PGDEA (PG in Education Administration), PGDCA (PG Diploma in Computer Application), DTE (Diploma in Teaching English), ICEPT (International Certificate in Education Preschool Teaching) from Singapore and B. Ed. She has been in the field of education for the past 20 years and has an experience of running her own pre-school She is the Founder & Director Academics of Smartkidz Educare India Pvt Ltd with 275+ play schools Pan India. She is an Educationist and a Child Psychologists by profession who wants to fulfill her dream of giving Quality Education to children in their earlier years. She is also into conducting positive parenting workshops, which talks about effective child rearing. She has conducted numerous parenting workshops in all her pre schools, schools and MNC’s.

View more articles Subscribe
comment No comments yet

You can be first to leave a comment

mode_editLeave a response

Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person. Required fields marked as *

Translate »