young japanese child lying on her side sucking her finger

Question: My child is still sucking his thumb. What should I do?

asian boy in red sucking his thumb while being held

Thumb sucking is normal for infants. Children may grow out of it. It can lead to dental concerns such as an openbite. Their front teeth may also stick out, so it’s best to encourage your child to break the habit as early as possible.

Misaligned bites may cause these problems:

  • Interfere with proper chewing
  • Make your child feel self-conscious about his appearance and affect self-esteem
  • Protruding teeth are more prone to injury when there is impact to the face (e.g. if your child falls)

Related: Tooth Anatomy and Decay

How You Can Help Break the Habit

The first thing all mums and dads should know is that thumb sucking is a habit that many kids turn to when they are bored, tired, stressed or anxious, so it might be counterproductive to scold or employ punishments to break this habit. Encouragement and positive reinforcements are your best tools to help your child stop the habit.

Speak with your child

Explain that thumb sucking is a bad habit. Let him know that it can spread germs and make people sick, and how it may affect development of his teeth. Sometimes, a clear explanation is enough to encourage him to break the habit on his own.

Related: Boosting Your Child's Mental Wellbeing

Find out when your child usually sucks his thumb

Does your child tend to suck his thumb while watching TV or reading? Try giving him a small rubber ball to squeeze to keep his hands occupied. If your child resorts to thumb sucking when he’s angry or stressed, help him put his feelings into words. Do not yell at your child or forcibly remove his thumb from his mouth as this might make him feel worse.

Some children suck their thumbs to sleep. It offers them comfort. Try giving your child soothers such as a stuffed toy or a cuddle when he goes to bed, to help him break the habit.

More drastic measures include painting nasty tasting nail polish on the thumb nail as a deterrence or placing a bandage over the thumb to remind the child not to place his thumb in his mouth.

Dentists can also fit the child’s mouth with a habit-breaking appliance which is usually worn for an extended period — at least three months after the child has broken the habit.

This procedure is only done if the habit persists after the upper permanent teeth emerge, and isn’t often done for younger children below seven.

Related: Keep Teeth in Check

Praise and reward your child

Praise your child and tell him what a great job he’s been doing for not sucking his thumb. Make a sticker chart and add a sticker for each achievement: for example, if he doesn’t suck his thumb while watching TV, he gets one star. If he doesn’t suck his thumb for an entire morning, that’s another star. If he manages to keep it up for the whole day, that’s two stars. Reward him by giving him more time at the playground or the library.

Related: Healthy Self-Esteem for Your Child

Give it time

The thumb sucking probably won’t stop overnight. It might take a couple of weeks, or even a few months. Be patient with your child and give plenty of encouragement. When your child does break the habit, don’t forget to give him — and yourself — a big pat on the shoulders. Two thumbs up!

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References:

  • Thumb Sucking: Why It Happens and What to Do about It. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.babycenter.com/0_thumb-sucking-why-it-happens-and-what-to-do-about-it_63687.bc
  • 11 Ways to Break the Habit of Thumb Sucking and Finger Sucking. (2016, January 18). Retrieved November 2018 from https://childrensmd.org/browse-by-age-group/toddler-pre-school/thumb-sucking-and-finger-sucking-11-ways-to-break-the-habit-without-breaking-your-budget/
  • Nalika Unantenne. How to Break Your Kid's Thumb Sucking Habit. Retrieved November 2018 from https://sg.theasianparent.com/how-to-break-your-kids-thumb-sucking-habit/
  • Dr Richard C. Woolfson. (2015, October 13). 6 Ways to Stop Your Child’s Thumb Sucking Habit. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.youngparents.com.sg/development/how-stop-thumb-sucking-habit/
  • Scott H. Chandler, MD. Breaking the Thumb-sucking Habit. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/breaking-thumb-sucking-habit#1