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How To Stop Toddler Sucking Their Thumb

Why does your toddler suck their thumb?

Thumb sucking starts before birth. In the womb your baby will suck their thumb as a way to help them cope with tension.

Once your toddler is born, they may continue to thumb suck as a way of comforting or calming him or herself.

Your child also learns a lot through sucking, for example you will see young children sucking clothes, fingers, toys etc, as this is how they learn what is pleasant and unpleasant.

You will often find that your toddlers thumb sucking will increase if your toddler is tired, scared, bored, ill sleeping or adjusting to something new in their routine.

Thumb sucking vs pacifier

Thumbs are always there

If your toddler is in need of comfort, their thumb is always there. This means if your toddler is upset, you don't need to worry about hunting around for a dummy.

Thumbs don’t fall out

If your toddler has had a long day and fallen asleep they can keep their thumb in their mouth easily. If your toddler is not quite asleep and their dummy falls out, it might wake your toddler up again, resulting in a grumpy toddler.

Thumbs don't need to be tied on

Your toddlers thumb is already attached so no need to tie it on with string or dummy leads.

If you tie your toddler’s dummy on, you need to be careful that your toddler does not get caught up in the string, as this can be a strangling hazard for your toddler.

Will thumb sucking cause permanent damage to my toddler’s mouth?

Don't worry; while your toddler has baby teeth, sucking their thumb should not cause any permanent damage to their teeth alignment.

Until your toddler’s permanent teeth come in, your toddler should be able to suck their thumb without causing any lasting damage.

This does however depend on how hard your toddler sucks their thumb.

If your toddler passively rests their thumb in their mouth, you don’t need to worry.

If your toddler is an aggressive thumb sucker and sucks vigorously on their thumb, you should keep an eye on the alignment of their teeth. You should also aim to try and curb your toddler’s thumb sucking habit sooner (when your toddler reaches about 4 years old).

Remember, nagging your toddler wont help matters. Nagging your toddler about their thumb sucking habits will stress them out more and make them suck their thumb more.

Generally your toddler wont even realise they are sucking their thumb, which is why it is such a difficult habit for them to break.

As your toddler grows up they will often find their own alternatives to sucking their thumb. Other toddlers will need your help to give up their thumb sucking habit.

5 top tips to stop toddler sucking their thumb

Unfortunately there are no over night cures for thumbsucking. But here are some tips to help thumbsuckers.

1) Pre-empt your toddlers thumb sucking and provide an alternative

If you know your toddler sucks their thumb at certain times of the day, for example when they are tired, you could try adding more naps into their daily routine. Alternatively, distract your toddler’s hands.

For example, give them a ball to play with, get them to hold the book whilst you are reading them a story; give them to teddies to cuddle (one for each arm).

2) Make your toddler think it is their idea

Talk to your toddler about how much they have grown up and the things they have given up, for example, nappies, bottles, and high chairs. Ask them if there is anything else they think they should give up.

Try and encourage your toddler to come up with the idea of giving up thumb sucking themselves (you may have to prompt them). Try and persuade them (in a non stressful way) that adults don't suck their thumb and giving up thumb sucking is a very grown up thing to do.

3) Help them notice when they are sucking their thumb

Give your toddler an example of something you gave up and explain how hard it was.

Then devise a secret signal with your toddler so you can tell them when they are thumb sucking. This makes a potentially embarrassing situation into a game that is fun for your toddler.

4) Use authority figures

While your toddler is young, they have a lot of respect from authority figures such as doctors and dentists. Get an authority figure to mention that sucking their thumb is bad for your toddler’s teeth and mouth.

5) Use peer pressure

Friends are very influential to your toddler, so if one of their friends comments on your toddlers thumb sucking, it is likely to have a stronger effect on your toddler then if you were to nag them for hours on end about their thumb sucking habits.