Breaking the thumb-sucking habit {older children}

Breaking the thumb-sucking habit {older children}

Posted by Little Mash on

Look, I'm no expert here. Nor am I trying to imply that thumb-sucking is wrong and you're a terrible parent if you allow your child to do it. Thumb-sucking has many self-soothing + psychological benefits and some babies will actually start while they're in the womb. Isn't that incredible!

"In many babies, the need to suck is not satisfied by bottle-feeding or breastfeeding alone, and they learn to suck on the ever-present thumb for comfort." - Ask Dr Sears

My daughter found her thumb at around 3 months old. Initially I wasn't quite sure how to feel (like many of you I was taught to believe it would be catastrophic to her teeth) but assumed she would eventually grow out of it - 4 and half years later and with no sign of stopping I decided it was time to intervene. An incredibly personal and surprisingly difficult decision to make, but I knew it was time...

Intimidated by the stack of brochures I had acquired from the dentist promoting costly thumb contraptions and yucky finger paint, I wanted to try a more gentle approach. Because my daughter is a bit older I was able to sit down and have an open conversation with her about it first. She told me how much she would miss her thumb and that it would be hard but was open to giving it a go. After some quick brainstorming this is what we decided on:

  1. Some theories suggest it takes 21 days to form a new habit. With this in mind I took a sheet of A4 paper and drew a rough chart with 21 boxes. Each night before bed (if she hadn't sucked her thumb for the entire day) we would use a felt to colour the favoured thumb and stamp a fingerprint in one of the boxes. The chart was displayed in her room and in plain sight. 

  2. I wrapped medical tape on her thumbs (you can also use regular plasters). She wore these 24 hours a day. To my surprise she only needed to do this for about a week before we could remove it completely.

  3. I would give her gentle reminders throughout the day and praise the heck out of her for doing such a great job.

  4. She chose a reward to enjoy once she had filled the 21 boxes on the chart. In my opinion this has to be something they reeeeaally want, something that will stir those powerful motivating emotions. For my daughter, it was a trip to the movie theatre.

We were successful after one round, however I decided to do the whole thing twice to really drive it home - your child may need more or less time.

I hope this has been helpful!

Tania of LMB

1 comment

  • I too have a 4 year old thumb sucker and just reading this makes me emotional as she’s done it from just a few months old. I’m not ready to take away that last little bit of ‘baby’ from her but I know I need to do it sooner rather than later before she starts school. Thanks for sharing your super easy (and realistic ideas on how to give it up). Now to initiate the conversation…

    Shiloh on

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