Thumb Sucking: Why Kids do it and How to Gradually Wean Thumb Sucking

Mother with baby leaning on moms shoulder

Thumb sucking is quite an adorable habit for babies and young toddlers.  And beyond looking cute, sucking is one of the first and most basic instincts of human babies.  That’s how babies know to suckle from their mother’s breast during breastfeeding.  It’s a natural reflex that cannot be stopped.  But some babies have a more intense desire to suck than others, which is where thumb sucking comes into play.

Some babies begin sucking their thumbs as early as in the womb.  Parents are often surprised to see ultrasound images of their babies sucking away before birth.  Not surprisingly, those babies are more likely to be thumb suckers a few months later when they are on the other side of the womb.


The Upside to Thumb Sucking

Contrary to what many parents believe, thumb sucking is not a psychological problem.  Rather, it’s a way for children to comfort themselves by using their innate suck reflex.  Thumb sucking is actually a wonderful method of self soothing that many parents value.  It’s a sign of maturity that a baby can pacify himself with a thumb that will always be available.  As children grow older, they may use thumb sucking as a form of comfort when they feel uneasy about a situation, are tired or feel ill.  The familiarity and reassurance of his own thumb can help him get through tough situations without crying or displaying other undesirable behavior.

The Downside of Thumb Sucking

Dentists are not a fan of thumb sucking because vigorous sucking can push teeth out creating misalignment.  However, thumb sucking up to age 2 will probably not cause that problem and thumb sucking before permanent teeth appear (around age 6) will usually not create lasting issues.  Kids who suck their thumbs often can suck their thumbs raw and form sores sometimes resulting in infections.  Also, it can be problematic if thumb sucking prevents a child from participating in activities or speaking.  Older thumb suckers sometimes run into issues when peers make fun of their thumb habit.

How to Handle Thumb Sucking

Most kids grow out of thumb sucking between the ages of 2 and 4.  Experts agree that the very best method is to let your child gradually wean himself from thumb sucking.  Nagging your child to stop or putting a deterrent on his thumb will usually backfire and is an unfair punishment to a very natural, comforting habit.  Because there are not severe repercussions in early childhood, try not to worry and wait until your child is ready to give up the thumb.  He will likely reach the conclusion on his own.

If thumb sucking is causing dental or behavioral issues and you need to intervene, try these tactics:

  • Keep your child’s hands busy so he doesn’t have the opportunity to suck.
  • Offer comfort in other ways, such as singing to him, rocking or giving him a massage.
  • Suggest an alternative habit, such as sitting on hands or pinching fingers together.
  • Create a relaxing environment that won’t prompt the need for self-comforting.
  • Show your child how thumb sucking is affecting his teeth.
  • Help your child identify when he’s sucking by using a silly catch-phrase that will make him laugh and release the thumb.
  • Set a reward for the eventual end to thumb sucking.

It’s highly unlikely that your child will leave for college still sucking his thumb.  Be patient, understand the reasons behind thumb sucking and employ techniques to wean when the timing is right.

The post Thumb Sucking: Why Kids do it and How to Gradually Wean Thumb Sucking appeared first on Leading Lady.

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