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How to stop thumb sucking

By Jo Bates, Founder of Thumbsie

Thumb sucking can be frustrating. It can be hard to stop. And worst of all, it can cause long term damage. In the ten years since I founded Thumbsie®, I have heard many stories from parents about how they have tried to stop their child thumb sucking. It would be fair to say, I've heard it all. But what can be done? How can children quit this habit for good?

Why is thumb sucking a problem?

Before I give you my top tips on quitting thumb sucking, it's important to explain why it's a problem in the first place. Many children suck their thumbs. If this is a very occasional occurrence, then typically it is no big deal. Sadly, for many children, it becomes a habit or routine. With frequent thumb sucking comes problems, from a higher risk of mouth or skin infection to self-esteem issues. The most serious of all, however, is oral development. Children's teeth are often developing during the same years that they are sucking their thumbs. This can have a major impact on their future oral health. Common side-effects can include an overbite, overjet or misaligned jaw – all potentially very costly to fix at a later stage.

Top Tips

So, what can be done to avoid this? I've selected my top tips, taken from a decade's worth of experience:

1. Identify triggers: The first stage in breaking any habit is finding out what causes it. Children typically thumb suck as a means of soothing and comfort. This can be especially prominent in times of stress and anxiety. What could be concerning your child?

2. Rewards: Children respond well to rewards and encouragement. Encourage your child to stop thumb sucking and perhaps give them rewards when they reach a certain stage. At Thumbsie®, we use stickers and a chart.

3. Stay calm: Thumb sucking can be a very frustrating habit but remember to stay calm with your child. If they see you getting angry, they may well thumb suck even more – especially if it is triggered by stress.

4. Communication: Show your child that you are there to help them break this habit. It is a team effort, and they can talk to you about anything!

5. Share: If possible, it can be really helpful to tell a few trusted people who engage with your child that you are helping them stop thumb sucking. These other people can make sure that your child doesn’t thumb suck when you are not around. Grandparents and teachers can be very helpful!

6. What could happen: Another tip is to show your child the worst-case scenario. Some parents show children photos of the damage that can be caused by thumb sucking – an overbite for example. This may not be right for everyone, so trust your judgement.

7. Consistency: This is key. Once you and your child start on the journey to quit thumb sucking, you must ensure the same rules are kept to. Children thrive when there are clear boundaries, so make sure the no thumb sucking rule is consistent both day and night.

Want more help with getting your little one to stop sucking their thumb, check out my online course or book a one to one call so that we can come up with a personalised plan


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