How Long Does It Take to Break a Thumb-Sucking Habit
With parental support and guidance, it may take a child 6 weeks to 3 months to break a thumb-sucking habit. Here are 10 tips to help your child stop

Thumb-sucking is a very common habit among young children, but one that can be hard to break. With parental support and guidance, it may take a child 6 weeks to 3 months to break a thumb-sucking habit.

Each child is unique, however, and the time it takes your child to stop sucking their thumb will vary depending on several factors. Learn what you can do to encourage your child to break the habit.

Why do children suck their thumbs?

Babies have a natural sucking reflex that can make them put their fingers in their mouths. For many children, thumb-sucking is a soothing habit that makes them feel secure. They may start sucking their thumbs due to:

When should you intervene?

More than 75% of infants suck their thumbs or fingers during the first year of life. Most children will stop on their own by the time they reach 3-6 months. However, it is estimated that 1 in 5 children may continue thumb-sucking after age 5.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), if your child is under age 5, you shouldn’t be concerned about a thumb-sucking habit since most children will grow out of it by the time they reach preschool. However, if your child is still sucking their thumb after age 5, you may need to address the habit to prevent oral health problems.

Why is thumb-sucking potentially harmful?

Prolonged finger-sucking or thumb-sucking can cause physical problems such as:

  • Dental problems
    • Altered shape of the jaw
    • Pressure on the roof of the mouth
    • Narrowing of the upper jaw
    • Uneven teeth
    • Crossbites
    • Chewing problems
  • Speech issues
  • Chapped lips
  • Fingernail infections
  • Calluses

10 ways to help your child break a thumb-sucking habit

  1. Be gentle: Avoid nagging or punishing your child, as this can make them more stubbornly hold on to the habit. Gently help your child understand why they need to stop.
  2. Identify triggers: Keep note of when your child tends to start thumb-sucking, such as when they are bored, hungry, or nervous.
  3. Offer alternatives: Help them to resist the urge suck their thumbs by providing them with a soft toy, a pillow, puzzles, or games that can help provide comfort in other ways.
  4. Reward them: Make the habit-breaking journey exciting by keeping a progress chart and offering a reward or a prize at the end of every week or every month your child has successfully resisted the habit.
  5. Shower them with praise: Celebrate small wins and praise your child’s progress with extra cuddles, hugs, and kisses.
  6. Distract them: Plan outings or play games together to make sure your child is busy and active and less likely to be tempted to revert to their old habit.
  7. Apply a bitter-tasting liquid: You can try applying a bad tasting but edible liquid to your child’s fingers to discourage the habit.
  8. Use gloves: You can also try putting your child’s hands in gloves or wrapping their fingers in bandages before bed so that they are less likely to thumb suck before sleep.
  9. Get help from a dentist: If home remedies don’t seem to work, your child’s dentist may recommend a mouth device, such as a palatal bar and crib, which could prevent thumb-sucking.
  10. Be patient: Don’t rush your child or lose your temper. Be patient and remember that your child will eventually break their thumb-sucking habit when they are ready.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/25/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Hatfield H. 9 Ways to Wean a Child Off Thumb Sucking. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/9-ways-to-wean-a-child-off-thumb-sucking

Chandler SH. Breaking the Thumb-Sucking Habit. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/breaking-thumb-sucking-habit

University of Michigan Health System (UMHS). Thumb-Sucking: Helping Your Child Stop. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tp23120