How To Wean Your Child Off Thumb-Sucking

Should they still be sucking their thumb beyond the age of four?

Most children find the habit of thumb-sucking soothing – so it’s no wonder that it can become a habit that’s hard to ditch even as they grow up. However, Mary Hayes, a pediatric dentist comments, “Usually, a child who is in the 2- to 4-year range will start to develop other coping skills beyond thumb or finger sucking, such as language development.” But more importantly, it can compromise oral and dental health. Here are some tips to help wean them off it:

1. Praise

Don’t make it a negative experience for your child. Instead, praise him and her when you notice they don’t turn to thumb-sucking. That way, they are more likely to seek your approval as opposed to doing it in secret.

2. Pattern observation

When does your child suck his or her thumb most? Chances are, it’s probably when they watch television or are about to sleep. If it’s television, turn it off for about five minutes each time they are caught thumb-sucking. Be careful not to reprimand them, but do communicate that this acts as a reminder for them to fitch the habit.

3. A reward system

Keep a chart and stickers to track your child’s progress. At the beginning, you may need to award him or her with a sticker for every hour they go without sucking their thumb – this can end with a bedtime story at night or an extra 20 minutes of television. As the period of them doing without thumb-sucking gets longer and turns into days, bring them out for ice cream or get them a new toy as a reward instead.

4. No punishment

Your child will tend to go back to sucking his or her thumb whenever they need to feel safe or comforted. Don’t prevent them from doing so as they still need a coping mechanism without having found an alternative.

5. Distraction

When you see your child about to suck their thumb, divert their attention by giving them their favourite toy or colouring book – something that will occupy their hands.