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Got a thumbsucker? Read this advice for help!


As a PSP member asks the group:


Hi all,

I just read the anthology of responses about pacifier-weaning and I wondered if anyone had counsel on stopping thumb-sucking. My 2 year old stopped her pacifier with ease it 1 year but it was hastily replaced by her thumb. She's mostly very good and limits the thumb to nighttime and naptime when she's falling asleep. That said, there are moments during the day when she'll have a good veg-out while sucking or she'll lay down and pretend to sleep just to get in a few minutes of thumb. We'd like to stop this, but unfortunately we can't leave her thumb at the dentist! Any advice?


Member advice:


“I personally think that thumbsucking is fine and that kids will stop when they are ready. So unless the dentist tells you that it is harming her tooth development you may as well just ride it out. My pediatrician refers to the practice as "self-soothing" and I think it is great.” (August 7, 2006)


“I know that this is not what you want to hear, but I feel I must share this with you. I sucked my thumb until I was 12, and absolutely loved every minute of it. I haven't found anything that gives me half the pleasure, comfort and assurance that my thumb did, so my advice to you is DON'T MAKE HER STOP!! I must also warn you that my parents, teachers, siblings, desperately tried to make me stop, they tried bribing me with a new puppy, put a disgusting nail polish on my thumb (which I simply rinsed off) and many other tricks, nothing worked. People made fun of me (I couldn't understand why (and still can't to this day)? why did it bother people so much? I loved it, couldn't they see that?). Anyway, I obviously didn't do it all day as I got older, but it helped me to fall asleep and give me comfort. What made me stop? One day I had a cold, and I couldn't breathe if I was sucking my thumb...somehow, after the cold was gone sucking my thumb didn't feel as good anymore, so I gave it up."


"I was hoping that one of my kids would take up the habit, but no such luck!! Oh well, I guess it's not hereditary... PS: My siblings used to tease me, they said I would develop "donkey" teeth (i.e., teeth that stick out)....well, my teeth are perfectly aligned, and theirs are all out of wack!!!” 


“My husband recently took our 3 year old daughter to the dentist and he suggested trying to phase her out of the finger sucking by the time she is 4 so that it won’t affect her teeth. He gave a few suggestions:
(1) When we have play dates, after the play date mention that so and so doesn’t suck her fingers.  Ideally if the children are close playmates, the other child can serve as a role model.
(2) Offer incentives like saying “when we go on our vacation and you aren’t sucking your fingers we can do X.”
(3) At night put some sort of sling around her arm so that when she puts her hand in her mouth it tugs her arm gently reminding her that she shouldn’t suck her fingers – honestly I’m not sure how that works as I wasn’t at the dentist’s office when he suggested this.
We’ve started doing 1 & 2 – not all of the time because I don’t want to make a huge deal out of this. I feel like there will come a time when she’ll decide that she is ready to give it up on her own, which is the real key. My daughter has to want to give it up. Sometimes I feel like it’s my fault – that if I had a more nurturing environment for her she wouldn’t want to suck her thumb but that’s just my insecurity. I sucked my thumb when I was a kid and I think I gave it up around 5. My husband sucked his thumb until he was four and gave it up when other kids started teasing him.
I don’t have any magic answers but if I had to do it over, I think I would have gone the pacifier route because it seems easier to transition away from.”


“My daughter sucked her thumb since infancy (and probably in the womb). At one point I searched the internet for opinions, and found lots of heartbreaking devices to torture kids out of it, I also found anecdotes from people who felt their trust in their parents had been destroyed by being forced to stop; and from grown-ups and grandparents who still sucked their thumbs and whose partners thought it was cute. Her dentist said there was no harm from it; her teeth were straight and fine. I let my daughter know it was her decision and I would support her when she wanted to stop.  When she got to Kindergarten (not pre-K!), the teacher firmly announced thumb-sucking was not permitted, because it is unsanitary. We all agreed it was gross to share a crayon you'd touched with your wet finger. She stopped sucking her thumb at school, all it took was a glance from the teacher; but she still used it at night.”


“When she was about 7, she decided to quit nighttime sucking, and asked me to put tape on her finger to keep her from automatically sucking in her sleep. (We started with bandaids, but there's so much sports tape in the house from her gymnastics, that was easier & less wasteful.) She charted with stickers on a calendar, and celebrated her 'broken habit' after the required 3 weeks. But honestly she wasn't over it, and she wore the tape for many more months, afraid of slipping back.
I like that this is her project. I really don't mind, except it IS unsanitary (we were careful to wash hands after). It IS a great instant soother. And besides, I think it's cute.”


“My daughter will be 3 in September and she loves her left thumb. Though I was given much advice to just let it be I feel strongly that now is the time to work on "weaning." She understands very well at this point that sometimes thumb sucking is not always socially appropriate. We try to show her that there are other ways to get comfort (i.e., if I am holding her for comfort I gently ask her to take thumb out of her mouth and to hug mommie instead). Sometimes when she sucks thumb in her sleep I pat her back and tell her she's OK because mommie is here and gently help her take thumb out. Sometimes I if she starts sucking her thumb during the daytime I ask if she would like a snack or drink or offer to read her a story. She used to be inseparable from her thumb when riding in the stroller but after much encouragement not to do it in the stroller and finding some fun games to play to counteract stroller boredom she is able to do witho0ut her thumb most of the time. It is a slow process for us and I do not want to force it but I do think that helping her along is a good thing at least it has been so far. Considering your daughter is in daycare you will probably need to work on this together with her teacher. So it is very important to know what the teacher thinks.”