Mother and Baby

Gentle (yet effective) tips to help your toddler stop sucking their thumb

Section: Behaviour

So many parents worry when their babies start sucking their thumb, because unlike dummies - you can’t really take a thumb away!

Many babies start sucking their thumb in the womb and often, this self-comforting continues long into the pre-school years.

Why should my child stop sucking their thumb? 

Cute and comforting as it is - sucking the thumb constantly can have a big effect on speech and the development of teeth, but not all thumb-sucking is equally damaging. It’s about the intensity of the sucking and how often your little one sucks for.

Cute and comforting as it is - sucking the thumb constantly can have a big effect on speech and the development of teeth.

Little ones who rest their thumb passively in their mouth while they go about their day, are less likely to have dental problems than children who suck constantly and aggressively. It’s the tongue’s constant thrust caused by sucking that deforms teeth. Likewise - a toddler who always talks while his thumb is in his mouth will likely develop speech issues so it’s important to get into good habits with your little thumb sucker from the start.

When your toddler talks to you – make sure they take their thumb out. Try and get your little one into this routine from a young age by letting them know they don’t have your attention unless their thumb is out of their mouth. Say something like ‘I can’t hear your words with your thumb there, can you say it again without your thumb?’

How can I get my little one to stop sucking their thumb?

Firstly, like anything parenting - go by your own little one - every child is different. Most children stop thumb-sucking on their own between the ages of 2 and 4, but many continue for much longer and can continue thumb-sucking throughout the school years!

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1) Don't be negative

 Making it a negative thing and being forceful or cross won’t help, in fact it’ll make it worse. Most children suck their thumbs when they are tired or worried - it’s a safety blanket used for reassurance, so always be calm, consilient and offer lot’s of praise for their efforts. There are lots of ways to stop your little one from sucking their thumb, but none are a quick fix. With any habit – it takes time and patience.
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2) Remind and reward

The easiest and most gentle method is to simply remind your little one that they are sucking their thumb then reward with lots of praise when they take it out. Your constant reminding will make them more aware of what they are doing, and eventually they’ll do it less and less.
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3) Get everyone involved

Get other family members to remind them too but remember to make it gentle and kind and not a shouty, negative thing. If they go to put their thumb in their mouth make a funny, lighthearted reminder like ‘quick! Get the thumb out!’ with lots of laughter and positivity.
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4) Don’t go cold turkey!

 Getting cross, making tough rules and not letting them suck their thumb isn’t going to work. They’ll do it in secret instead and you’ll just make them feel bad for doing it. Remember it’s a comforting habit, something they have done since birth - it’s not something you can put stop to by being cross.
Plasters on the thumb, thumb guards and awful tasting nail-biting solutions can work, but going cold turkey is harsh, and to be totally honest - it will cause more stress than the thumb sucking itself!
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5) Make it a bedtime thing

Limit their thumb sucking to when they need it most to make it less of a habit such as bedtime (most only suck for a few minutes before they fall asleep,) hospital visits or doctor appointments. Use a gentle reminder if they suck their thumb out of these ‘agreed’ times and don’t make a big deal out of it.
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6) Keep the thumb busy! 

Thumb sucking usually happens when little ones are doing nothing other than watching TV or having a book read to them. If they are watching a movie or having some quiet time, offer something to fiddle with such as a blanket or teddy.
During the day offer activities that need two hands such as threading large beads, painting, drawing or doing puzzles. The less they are active - the more likely the thumb will slip into their mouth.
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7) Don't stress! 

Finally, Try not to worry. Go by your own child rather than the opinion of others.
Your little one will stop sucking their thumb eventually! Having said that, if you have any concerns about your child’s speech due to thumb sucking, consult your Health visitor or GP. If you have any concerns about your child’s dental health, please consult a dentist.

Now read:

Ask Rachel: "Is it okay to give my baby a dummy?"

How dentists look after their tots’ teeth

Why is my baby sucking their thumb?

Ask Rachel: "What should I do if I think my tot has tongue-tie?"

  • Author: Fi Star-Stone Fi Star-Stone
  • Job Title: Childcare expert

Fi’s qualifications include a Degree in Childhood and Youth studies, an NNEB diploma in Nursery nursing, and a Diploma in Childhood studies. She’s been working with children and families for 25 years.

Fi’s likes kitchen dancing, Moomins and cake. She also, recently joined the fire-service as an on-call firefighter. (True story!) 

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