Thumbsucking: How I helped my child stop sucking their thumb

thumbsucking how to stop child from sucking thumb how to wean from thumbsucking

Thumbsucking is a common and natural behaviour in babies and young children. It serves as a self-soothing mechanism, helping them feel secure and comfortable, especially during stressful times or when they are falling asleep. For babies and children, thumbsucking is a reflex that provides comfort and is perfectly normal.

When to be concerned about thumbsucking?

However, prolonged thumbsucking beyond the age of five or six can lead to dental and oral issues.

Persistent thumbsucking can cause improper alignment of the teeth (malocclusion), leading to issues such as overbite or open bite.

It can also affect the shape of the jaw and the roof of the mouth, potentially leading to speech problems.

Additionally, thumbsucking can introduce germs and bacteria into the mouth, increasing the risk of infections.

We know that children who suck their thumb are also more likely to pick up bugs and infection, and even thread worms.

Tips to help your child to stop sucking their thumb:

My middle child is now 7, and we have finally managed to get her to stop sucking her thumb. I wanted to share some of the strategies we have used to help support her to do this.

Speak with their dentist:

We initiated the change after a visit to the dentist. The dentist spoke to her about how she needed to stop. Having an authority figure explain this to her in a kind way was really helpful. We spoke honestly about how long term thumb sucking can change the shape of your mouth and your teeth. We also prepared her by reading a book called ‘My Thumb.’

Thumb guards can help:

The key tool we used was a thumb guard, similar to a glove. These can be worn to discourage thumbsucking. These guards are designed to fit over the thumb and can serve as a physical reminder not to suck the thumb. The one we have she can take on and off herself, so she was very involved in the process of choosing whether to use it or not

Rewards and incentives:

Positive reinforcement can be very effective, and for my daughter this was absolutely key! 

You can create a reward chart where your child earns a sticker for each day they go without sucking their thumb (or buy one like we did!). After accumulating a certain number of stickers, reward them with a special treat or activity they enjoy. This encourages them to break the habit while feeling motivated and supported. 

We incentivised with slime, books about her favourite subject (pigs!), and miniature Barbie food for her Barbie house.

Encouragement and praise:

Regularly praise your child for not sucking their thumb. Positive attention can be a powerful motivator and helps build their confidence in breaking the habit. 

It can be really helpful for them to ‘overhear’ you praising them, perhaps loudly telling your partner or friend how proud you are. We have done a lot of this. She ‘overheard’ me on the phone to her grandparents (she has a very soft spot for my dad!)

Make it achievable:

Take small steps. We started by challenging her to not suck her thumb at school (the thumb guard really helped and we told her teacher what we were trying to achieve. It is well worth speaking to your childcare provider to let them know what you are doing!). 

Once she had managed this she could suck her thumb at home. The next step was no thumb sucking all day, but she could suck it at bedtime. Then finally, she was ready to try at bedtime. 

The first night she didn’t manage it, but we gave her lots of praise for trying, and told her that the next night was another chance to try. We kept the pressure off and said she could try again and see what happened. Finally, she managed it! She kept the thumb guard on all night (I checked on her before we went to bed and it was still on!)

Notice their triggers for thumbsucking:

Pay attention to when and why your child sucks their thumb. Understanding the triggers can help you address the underlying reasons, whether it’s boredom, stress, tiredness or the need for comfort. 

Think about other things you can distract them with. My daughter found that chewing a purpose designed toy was really helpful, to give her something to do instead. She often wanted to suck her thumb when tired and zoning out while watching TV, so this is when we gave her the toy. 

You can think about other substitutes like fidget toys, ribbons, or other soft toys they might like to stroke, or some putty or a stress toy if they like the firmer feedback.

Offering support:

You may need to give them some more support at bedtime, and that is okay. However, don’t entirely change your bedtime boundaries. 

We made my daughter’s bedtime a little later than usual in order for her body to be more ready for sleep. This helped her to fall asleep and accept the change. The first night I sat with her for 5 minutes to reassure her and keep her company, but kept it to that, as I didn’t want to change how we do things. 

She has been a great sleeper since she was a small baby, and I put a lot of that down to her thumb! She has always been able to soothe herself with her trusty thumb, so its a big deal to be able to get to sleep without it for the very first time.

Involve them and help them feel empowered to make choices:

It is important that your child feels ready and empowered for the change. We had tried at times before this, and she wasn’t engaged in the subject. I think its important not to put too much pressure on your child or on yourself. 

It has taken until she was 7 to be ready to make this change. The timing was right as much as anything. The great thing is we have been able to stop before her adult teeth come through (although we have a couple!). 

Best of luck if you are aiming to make this change, I really hope sharing our experience helps. 

You can see the products that we used on my Amazon shop: Just Chill Mama’s Amazon page

Looking for support with your toddler's sleep?

If you’re experiencing challenges with your toddler’s sleep, then we can help! We have an instant access online course here which gives you a step by step guide making changes to sleep. We also have a team of sleep consultants who can provide a personalised plan and support – you can meet the team and see our packages here.

Sleep Success Course:
1.5 to 4 Years