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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.” 


And some more thoughts from a February 2020 thread:


"My son, now 3.25 years old, had a thumb-sucking habit. Started when I stopped breastfeeding around 12 months old and continued until he was about 32-33 months old.

We first tried used the TGuard AeroThumb thumbguard. It worked for a few days but the problem was that my son just moved to his other thumb. And then his index finger. Then he got crafty, and managed to get the guard off his hand. We gave up after a few weeks.

Our pediatric dentist recommended Mavala. We all had one very tough night when we painted his nails (son couldn’t fall asleep without his thumb), but our son completely stopped sucking his thumb within 48 hours from the first and only application."


"One family's perspective: we did not take the advice of the dentist and have been super lax about it. It feels cruel to me on some level, as it provides him comfort? Also I am lazy and don't want to pick this particular fight. Our son is not a regular daytime thumb sucker at all. Just when tired and/or falling asleep. (Which sounds like yours) He doesn't suck his thumb all night though, just for that initial getting to sleep period.

It has definitely lessened as he's gotten older, but still going strong at night time. Now he is 6. On the verge of losing teeth. Last time we were at the dentist they didn't mention it at all when examining his teeth, so fingers crossed it's not having major effect on how his teeth are being formed?

Anyway, that's just one school of thought. Good luck with whatever you choose to do. It will probably be fine regardless!"


"Just to let you know the long term ramifications of thumb sucking/pacifier use... my sister was a thumb sucker. She was still sucking into elementary school. In high school she had jaw surgery to reshape her jaw which was very narrow (her palate formed into the shape of her thumb) and widen her face/smile. Now, 20 years later she is faced with a similar decision. The surgery was not lasting and her palate narrowed again giving her constant jaw pain and eating issues. She wishes that every parent know and understand that this decision has very long term implications for ones dental/facial health. I recommend you speak with your dentist/orthodontist if you are concerned about the specifics.

this is why straw cups are now recommended instead of hard sippy cups it is also why certain pacifiers are called ”orthodontic”

I cannot give you advice about HOW to conquer this, but let you know it is something near and dear to my heart as I’ve watched her suffer as an adult for something our mom thought was so inconsequential then."


"My daughter was in a somewhat different situation in that she was sucking her thumb unconsciously many times a day.

I was quite concerned about her teeth so at about five and a half, we launched a full-scale assault on the behavior. Because hers as so entrenched, we took a multi-faceted approach. In case it's helpful:

1. Mavala on both thumbs (she did NOT hate it after the first exposure so it wasn't enough by itself).

2. thumb guards -- huge failure, we used for less than 5 minutes.

3. bandaids -- she went to sleep with bandaids on her thumbs and if they were still there in the morning -- and the Mavala helped remind her -- she got ice cream in the morning for breakfast AND a sticker on her chart. she also wore bandaids at school because she would suck at story time.

4. tons of positive reinforcement with the daily ice cream for breakfast PLUS the sticker chart which eventually earned her a dress for her doll. lots of cheering and high fives.

5. the book David Decides About Thumbsucking -- super helpful. we read it for weeks beforehand.

6. sense of agency -- I let her pick the start date. and she had already picked the doll's dress, and come up with the idea of ice cream for breakfast. this was what motivated her.

I was very concerned about her sleep -- I am a pediatric sleep consultant -- but to my surprise, it was only a few nights of interrupted sleep."


TGuard experiences from a February 2021 thread:


"We bought the TGuard for our daughter after the nail polish stopped working.

We had applied the nail polish every 2 days as instructed and it did make her suck her fingers less but she quickly caught on that her nails tasted better on the 2nd day.

After that didn’t work, we bought the TGuard for her index and middle finger. We kept it on her for 2-3 weeks when we felt that she no longer had the urge to do it. She did not switch to another finger and we thought it was a success.

She has regressed a bit though and from time to time, she’ll still go back to sucking her fingers when she’s bored or having a tantrum. I still highly recommend the TGuard bc she has greatly reduced her finger sucking but every child is different."


"We successfully used the T-guard for my son! We did it for 40 days and he does not suck his thumb anymore or any other finger. I am amazed. I highly recommend it. You really do have to follow the instructions so it is tight enough or they can slip it off though. I sucked my thumb as a kid for way too long and wish I had it when I was younger. It's a hard habit to stop and I'm so glad L. is done! We made it fun. The colored bracelets help, the sticker chart that comes with it also makes it fun, and we called it a 'Power Glove.' Plus the incentive of a big toy at the end also helped. My son was able to draw and everything with the device on. I really can't recommend it enough."