Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How to stop thumb sucking in its tracks...well, maybe

So, you've decided you need to get your toddler to stop sucking his thumb. Whatever you do, don't tell him to stop! By telling him to stop, you've set yourself up for a long battle. And never yell! Yelling at a child for an activity that just a month or two ago you found perfectly acceptable will only confuse him. It could also produce anxiety over other behaviors, wondering if you'll decide he's not allowed to do them either.

Since thumb sucking is often a way a child comforts himself, scolding him will only make him want to do it more. In the same way, pressuring him to stop can produce opposite effects.

Focus your efforts on helping your little one to give up the thumb and be consistent in whatever approach you use. Don't get lazy and let things slide one day and then refocus the next day. Consistency is key.

Have you ever tried to break a habit or change a behavior? What motivated you? What kept you focused? Draw on your own experiences. Often we need a support system of some kind. Be that support system for your little one as he struggles to give up his "addiction." Don't underestimate how strong a pull that thumb can have. When you see your child kicking the habit, lavish praise on him. Positive reinforcement goes so much further than negative comments and ramifications.

Charting his progress can be helpful. And let him work toward a reward. A day at the park or an evening at Chuck E. Cheese's. Recognize that he will probably slip up from time to time, particularly when he's hurt or tired. Don't make a big deal about it.

As your child grows, his thumb sucking can cause real problems in his developing mouth, as I mentioned in yesterday's post. You may want to talk to your pediatrician or pediatric dentist for advice. They may offer a device that will aid in your child kicking the habit by making it uncomfortable to suck his thumb.

You can also use other deterrents, such as Band-Aids. There are mixed reviews about using an unpleasant tasting deterrent on children's thumbs. Some people swear by it, saying their child stopped sucking their thumb because they poured pickle juice, vinegar, bitters, or lemon juice directly on the thumb. Others say this is an ineffective solution. All I can say is, if you want to try it, try it. If it works, wonderful! If not, you might need to seek professional help.

When you see you little one sucking his thumb out of boredom, give his hands something else to do to keep them busy. Did you ever notice it's easier to not succumb to eating snacks while knitting or doing a crossword puzzle? It's the same principle.

There's a wonderful little book out there called The Bear who Sucked his Thumb, written and illustrated by Dr. Dragan Antolos. Reading, and re-reading, this book to your child can have a positive impact when it's time to break the habit. You can learn more about the book at

Recent findings don't look good for the oral health of thumb suckers past the age of two or three. However, earlier research pointed to the psychological benefits of thumb sucking, so I suggest you do your research, stay positive and never, never punish your child for doing something that comes naturally to him

I welcome any comments and suggestions from parents who have faced this dragon and won. I'll be happy to pass along any of your tried and true tips.

Keeping it healthy,


No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog