How can I stop my child from sucking his/her thumb?

Thumb or finger sucking is very common and in early years it is not a major cause for concern. If this habit continues or is severe, it can cause changes in the position of the teeth and the shape of the upper jaw bone (the palate).

Thumb sucking is a soothing activity that serves to help alleviate anxiety and is thought to stem from the rooting impulse of infants seeking comfort.

Many children who suck their thumb will stop on their own with no intervention (often by 2-4 years of age), though some do require assistance to break the habit.

It is generally best to avoid making a big deal of the behaviour as this tends to make children dig in their heals. In social situations, a secret hand signal or some other subtle reminder can help to remind the child without embarrassing him or her.

An important point to be made with any intervention is to try to keep to positive reinforcement – scolding or other negative attention can actually worsen the problem as it makes the child more prone to self-soothing. A reward system such as a sticker chart can work very well to help the child change their behaviour and let them feel a sense of pride in having done so.

There are products on the market such as nail varnishes which have a bad taste but these serve more as a reminder for the child to stop sucking their thumb – a determined child will still suck, regardless of these products.

A dentist can be of some assistance. Sometimes a conversation with the dentist stressing the importance of stopping the habit can enhance parental efforts. If the habit is causing problems and previous attempts at curbing it are not successful, an oral appliance can be fitted for the child that makes thumb sucking very difficult. This is can serve a useful role in helping him or her to break the habit.

Dr. Malinowski can examine your child for any signs of changes in his (or her) mouth and answer any further questions that you may have.

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