Thumb sucking: when does it become a problem?


Plenty of babies and toddlers go through a phase of being beyond attached to their dummy or their thumbs. No matter how much you try, it might seem like your little one will never give it up. And everyone will have an opinion on the matter.

Usually, around three children will stop sucking their thumb, so there might be no need to worry just yet, most children will naturally grow out of it. If your child needs that comfort non-stop and you think it’s time to kick the habit, there are a few tips to get you there.

When is sucking their thumb a problem?

  • When it’s happening all day long
  • When it stops them from interacting with other kids or doing things because their hands are too busy

How to break the habit:

  • Be patient: Breaking a habit is easier said than done! Just think of all the things you’ve had to overcome yourself. So, give your little one a bit more patience and understand it might be a bit tough at first.

  • Observe their behaviour: Take note of what causes them to suck their thumb. If they only suck their thumb at specific times, you might be able to replace this activity with something else. Finding another coping mechanism for feelings of stress or another emotion can also be helpful.

  • Reward positive behaviour: Instead of scolding them when they keep sucking their thumb, try instead to congratulate when they’ve made it through a whole meal without doing it.

  • Explain why it’s important to stop: Your little one won’t understand at first why it’s so bad to do this. By breaking down the benefits of stopping (like good teeth so they can eat well), they will be more likely to find some success.

  • Ask them what might help them: If it has to do with some sort of sleeping issue, see what might be bothering them. They might need to transition to a blankie at night or an extra cuddle to settle them.

  • Set boundaries: You can try letting them know that they can only suck their thumb in bed or while watching something. Over time they will hopefully need it less as it’s getting weaned out of their lives.

  • Enlist the dentist: A little more of a push coming from the dentist might be enough information for them to start kicking the habit. They are well-practised in explaining this in fun and educational ways! 

  • Involve their favourite teddy: Explain to them that their favourite toy or stuffed animal has a problem with sucking its thumb. Ask them if they can set a good example for their companion and see if they start changing slightly.

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