Advice about Thumbsucking
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Advice about Thumbsucking
Babies & Toddlers
My son is 14 months and has been sucking his thumb since he was about
6 months. At first, he didn't do it much, but over time, especially
once he hit 10 months, he has increased the usage of his thumb. When
we noticed this, we tried to switch him over to a pacifier because his
thumb would get raw, but we only managed to get him to chew on the
pacifier (too late to take the paci). Now that he's 14 months, he
sucks his thumb all the time! (30% of the day at least)
Does anyone know how I might be able to reduce, perhaps eventually
wean my son off of thumb sucking? I am realistic and only really wish
to get him to stop sucking his thumb long enough for it to heal. I
know thumb sucking is common, my son clearly uses it to comfort
himself, but it's really disturbing to see my son's thumb is swollen,
red and has tiny wounds from the constant sucking. I'm concerned it
will become infected. Anything that has worked for other parents?
Mittens seem like they would come off a one year old.
Thanks so much!
It must be difficult to see your son's thumb so raw from
thumb sucking! Usually, most kids will grow out of it;
however, if it has reached this point, I would encourage
you to be more proactive with it.
Perhaps you can give him something else to substitute
his thumb as a comforting mechanism? Maybe a stuffed
animal? Or try googling thumb sucking
replacement/substitutes? Maybe you can try a reward system
to wean him away? For each day that he goes certain number
of hours without thumb sucking, he gets a little prize.
And, after he accomplishes that goal, extend the amount of
hours each day so that eventually he goes all day without
There is an orthodontic appliance that actually blocks
the thumb; however, your son may be too young for
that. You may want to consult an orthodontist to be
Thumb sucking seems like such a minor habit; however, in
the long run, it can cause major permanent dental
problems. Usually, it is not a big deal as long as your
son stops before 5-6 years old, which is when his
permanent adult front teeth grows in. Howevever, it can
affect how his face and bone develop. The earlier you stop
this habit, the better for your child.
My dad was ''old school'' and with 5 kids in the 60s he didn't
have the time or patience for any BS from any of us. When my
brother had a finger sucking problem my dad resorted to home
remedies. One was to mix up some gooey potion stuff with
pepper in it and put it on those fingers at bedtime. I
suppose Vick's vapor Rub or motor oil/axle grease,Vaseline
would work too. The final remedy was some home made mittens
made of cotton that had tie strings on them which he cinched
up real good at bedtime-and they worked. Plastic cable ties
like police use as cheap hand cuffs would work too if not
too tight around the wrists. Another trick was to take the
favorite finger and tape it to the next one with that white
adhesive tape which wasn't too pleasant to suck on after a
few days. My brother flies 747s now so if you see a pilot in
the cockpit with strange gloves on you'll know who he is!
Not really-the mittens worked in the end I think!
I just saw the post from someone who suggested putting
ointment, motor oil or vaseline on your child's thumb to
cure thumb-sucking. I'm sure you can already see why
that's a bad idea. My child sucked his thumb most when
asleep and while I'm sure this advice was well-intentioned
I would stick with non-toxic remedies like mittens. The
orthodontic device mentioned is also not an option until
your child has teeth and probably wouldn't be recommended
by any dentist or orthodontist for at least 5 years. My
son is wearing it and it worked immediately and without
discomfort but it is basically braces for the front adult
teeth. Good luck!
concerned mom of former thumb-sucker
My 7 month old sucks his thumb quite a bit - to the point where it is red and raw
looking. He only sucks his left thumb, and it is rarely out of his mouth for more than
20 or 30 minutes. I would like to put a skin lubricant on it to help with the dryness, but
I am worried about him sucking on it and ingesting it. Does anyone know of a natural,
non-chemical lotion or lubricant that I could use? Or should I just leave well enough
alone as it doesn't seem to bother him?
Sir Suck-a-lot's mommy
What aboout Lansinoh, the stuff that breastfeeding moms use on
cracked nipples? Might be worth a try...
I have gotten the most amazing results with olive oil--works
great on dry skin patches, smells wonderful, and is definitely
nontoxic. Good luck, and remember that even Sir Sucks-a-Lot
will someday tame his finger dragon!
Try Lanisoh (nipple cream).
I have heard that all of Burt's Bees products are completely
What can I do to encourage my newborn to suck his thumb rather
than a pacifier? We have a one-week-old boy who, from day one,
has put his fingers/thumb to his mouth and sucked on them a
bit, but - understandably - not enough to put himself to
sleep. Most often he will fall asleep on the breast, but in
the last 2- 3 days he has shown that he will also go to sleep
with a pacifier -- but I would really rather he use his thumb,
especially since it seems he has already found it (to a certain
degree). Is it simply a matter of putting his fingers/thumb to
his mouth and holding them there? That doesn't seem to really
soothe him, though, and it seems unrealistic to expect him to
learn to do it himself at this young age. (Or is it?) Do I
have any hope of teaching him to use his thumb if we're also
using a pacifier sometimes? My daughter, now 3, refused both
thumb and pacifier in favor of my breast for nearly two years,
so I know I should be grateful that this guy is at least
willing to take a pacifier - but still, I'd prefer he use his
thumb if we can get him to do it. Advice?
My son had been putting his fingers and thumb in his mouth since
before birth, but use a pacifier to soothe himself for about the
first eight weeks. He just wasn't coordinated enough to get the
thumb to stay in his mouth. Once his motor skills developed he
took out his pacifier and put in his thumb.
Don't worry, use the pacifier now to encourage the comfort
sucking. When the baby has better motor skills, they'll find
the thumb again.
I'm sure you will get plenty of advice on this one, but I can't
resist putting in my 2 cents worth: Unlike a 7 year old who
wants a game boy, your infant doesn't know that pacifiers
exist, and can't ask for one! My solution was to not introduce
one to my son--he never sucked anything but a breast, and
was a happy infant and child. When he was a toddler, he
did ask me once ''What's that plug that people put in babies
mouths?'' Remember, many generations of infants did just
fine without pacifiers. Enjoy your baby! He or she will
discover his hands and suck on them if he wants.
a binkie-free mom
I think that your child is very young to be reliably finding his
own thumb for comfort. I'd recommend the pacifier. My daughter
didn't start using her own thumb until around four months, I
think, and then the pacifier didn't satisfy her anymore. If your
child takes to the pacifier and won't give it up later, when he
can find his own thumb, you might have to try other things then.
I believe (based on a sample size of two -- my own two kids)
that thumbsucking is an innate instinct and there's not much
parents can do one way or another to encourage or discourage
thumbsucking. I used a pacifier for the first two or three
months for both of my children. Around three months, they
started to get a sense of their own hands and discovered their
thumbs. They've both been sucking their thumbs -- to apparent
great satisfaction -- ever since.
Please Please do not encourage your child to suck their thumb
unless your are willing and able to pay for orthodontia. We are
on round 2 of braces/orthodontia and will have invested almost
$8000, all because our daughter sucked a finger as an infant. I
thought it would be better than a thumb, as I sucked my thumb
and was the only one in the family who needed braces - it
caused an overbite. My daughter sucked a finger, found it on
her own very young, and we discovered, much too late, that it
threw off her entire bite. So please please do not encourage
this. Pacifiers are an individual choice, but many children
manage without them, and if you do choose to go the pacifier
route, the nipple portion is orthodontially correct, as are
Hi - Our son JUST gave up his pacifier at 2 years old and it was
waaaay longer than we had planned. In the first year we would
have to go to his room to replace the pacifier if it fell out
when he awoke. Our daughter (4 months old) showed interest in
her fingers and thumb in the first few weeks. She now puts
herself to sleep sucking her thumb and will find it in the
middle of the night (a huge blessing!) when she wakes up and
needs comfort. I say toss the pacifier and wait and watch your
baby find their thumb. One week is still very young. You can
encourage it but they will find it if there is interest. Good
Loving the thumb!
You didn't say why you don't like the pacifier, but here is
something to consider. A pacifier can eventually be taken away,
whereas a thumb cannot. The trick with the pacifier is to wean
them from it early - somewhere around six months. After six
months it gets harder (though not impossible). We weaned both
our kids from the pacifier between 6 and 9 months, and both
easily learned to self comfort (without breast, bottle, thumb,
Formerly avid thumbsucker
It took our daughter a while - how long is fuzzy - to co-
ordinate getting her thumb into her mouth. Frequently it would
pop out when she needed it most, making her more upset...
However, putting it in for her made her cross, so we just had
to not help. She did master it eventually & now proudly sucks
both - though not at the same time! Just be patient & it will
happen. My instinct would be to not give him the pacifier so
that he will try harder to control his thumbs, but that is just
There may be an obvious answer to this question, but as a first time mom i figure
im entiitled to ask. My almost 6-month old son loves sucking on his fingers.
Because hes like a slobbering machine, his hands are always soaking wet and now
that its winter, his hands are like tiny little ice cubes, even when we are inside. Im
wondering if theres anything i can do to help keep him warm, espevially when we go
out. putting mittens on him just means that he'll end up with a mouthfull of fuzz.
we bundle him up well but his face and hands are always freezing. any ideas?
The only easy answers I can think of are: give him a pacy, or just accept that his hands and face will be a bit cold. People say that babies really shouldn't be bundled more than we are, but to me it seems like because they're not moving while in the stroller (unlike us, who are working hard to push them), they should be bundled a little more. But in any case, it's not like we're living in the arctic of something; slightly cold hands won't do permanent harm. Oh, and if he doesn't take a pacy, I wouldn't really suggest introducing it, because he seems to be quite resourceful in soothing himself.
my 2 cents
what I do is have a bib to keep the saturation as contained as possible and I carry extras plus zip-loc bags for the wet stuff.
somtimes I take extra shirts as well. and the biggest thing that keeps my baby warm it to have a warm hat on her head all the time. the difference in the temperature of her hands when she has a good hat on is really noticable. (I sew ties on them otherwise she pulls them right off.) good luck
If you want to explore why your child is finger sucking so much, I recommend you see someone who does Jin Shin Jyutsu. The fingers may be offering comfort for your child that he isn't able to obtain otherwise. For example, the thumb is for worry, the index for fear, middle for anger (duh), ring for sadness, and little for trying too hard. When my son was putting his whole hand in his mouth, our practitioner pointed out he has a lot of needs and is doing Jin Shin on himself!
The practitioner I see now is Pamela Reynolds, 510-548-0126. She is brilliant and exceptional, especially with children.
Nori Hudson, NC
Thumbsucking Guilt with Breastfed 1-year-old
My one year old is beginning to wean himself from the breast and I feel
it may be because he meets most of his sucking needs from his
thumbsucking. Bill Sears says baby's thumbsuck because they don't
breastfeed and co-sleep. I am a 100% breastfeeding mom, but we didn't
co-sleep. I remember watching my son at 6 weeks suck his fist and find
his thumb and according to Sears I should have picked him up to nurse
when I saw him doing that. I used to feel pleased that he was
resourceful enough to be able to self-soothe. Now I feel guilty...he's
on the road to early weaning (I nursed my older child to nearly 3 years
old) and has a habit that is hard to stop. I guess I'm feeling that a
child who wasn't left to rely on himself for soothing wouldn't develop
this habit. I also was a thumbsucker and a piece of it may have been
that my mom was a single mom.
I'm wondering what were the circumstances around thumbsucking in other
families. Thanks for any thoughts.
I was an avid thumbsucker until I was 8. I had two parents and a relatively
stable home. I assure you that it's no big deal. I never had braces or
major personality disorders. Self-soothing is a fine art that should be
encouraged. Too many people never learn this and turn to outside sources
(food, alcohol, drugs) as adults. My own son self-weaned at 9 months when he
discovered the pleasures of finger food. Once I was dry, he began teething
with a vengeance and wanted to suck, suck, suck. We gave him formula and I
was wracked with guilt, not the least abated by his love for the pacifier.
He very quickly gave the pacifier up but still, at 2, loves his bottle, now
filled with soy milk or 1%. He gets a lot of comfort from it and I hate to
think of taking it away from him, despite what the pediatrician says.
My sister, a three-child veteran, told me, "We all feel guilty when we wean.
He could have been FIVE and you'd have still felt guilty." She nursed her
kids until age 2. One had the bottle until he was three, one had the
pacifier until he was four, and one just never looked back. Please don't
feel guilty. We all have our little comfort mechanisms. If you give your
child all the love and snuggles and comfort you can, what more can anyone ask
for? You're doing a great job, I'm sure. Don't beat yourself up about
thumbsucking. My guess is that he won't go to his Bar Mitzvah with his thumb
in his mouth.
Sears is great, but he's not the only guy out there. You should also check
out T. Berry Brazelton and Penelope Leach.
Please don't feel guilty, especially because of something you read in a
book. Sears is a well respected authority, but there is no such thing
as one-size fits all parenting, and there is certainly no single
explanation for a given behavior in a child. Children come to earth
with different needs and different ways of soothing themselves - often
these things have nothing to do with you! I know it's a little sad to
have your child start to wean, because the time you breastfeed is such a
special time. But don't assume your child is stopping because of some
shortcoming on your part. You can probably find a lactation consultant
to offer some advice, but please, don't turn this into an abandonment
issue. It makes me sad to see parents beat themselves up over something
which in the grand scheme of things is not that important. I have two
children, one a thumb sucker, one not, though both were nursed. People
love to talk about what a horrible habit thumbsucking is, but it's not a
big deal. My (now ex-) thumbsucker is a happy well adjusted person. In
his own time (as with everything else!), your child will stop. If this
is the worst problem you face, you're going to have a great life!
please let yourself off the hook immediately -- I know several babies who
weaned themselves off the breast before a year who were not thumbsuckers,
and I know kids who were raised with Sears as the Bible -- cosleeping,
breastfeeding til 3 etc. -- who were avid thumbsuckers. I was a longterm
thumbsucker myself, and I really encouraged my son to be one too, because I
remembered how comforting and nice it was and wanted him to have that
option. He never showed much interest in his thumb though -- even though he
didn't cosleep (so much for Sears theory). I often wish he did suck his
thumb when he starts melting down at the very moment we're stuck in
traffic, but the truth is that kids are who they are, not who we decide
they should be.
It sounds to me like you have an idea in your mind that your child
shouldn't need his thumb, and that you're to blame for somehow not
providing something that he needs. But think of it this way -- as much as
you want to be the most perfect and nurturing parent in the world, there
will be at least a few moments when you're not. isn't it better that he
have something he can do for himself at those times? I don't think it's a
question of *having* to be self reliant, as it is a question of having some
tools in his repertoire for comforting himself.
One last thing -- why worry about breaking the thumbsucking habit? The time
will come when he decides he's ready to stop and he will. Why worry about
when that's going to be? It's not like he's torturing animals. Trust that
he's fine and will dispense with the habit when it's no longer useful to
I have no guilt about my healthy, active 6-month-old daughter's thumbsucking
-- she was sucking her thumb on the ultrasound at 16 weeks gestation! I
sucked my thumb and figure it is just something some kids do and some kids
don't do, usually without or due to trauma. The one concern her pediatrician
has is that she may suck her thumb instead of eat sufficiently (nurse or
otherwise), and to make sure she has really had enough to eat -- I do not
take this to mean she should nurse every time she puts her thumb in her
mouth. Hope this helps. Maybe your pediatrician has a different opinion.
I wanted to send reassurances. Although Dr. Sears has many, many good
points, everything anyone else tells you must be filtered through your
own experiences and through the realities that you and your child
face. Babies wean at different times for different reasons (mine
weaned at 11 months because her two front top teeth were both coming
in, although I would gladly have nursed another year or more), and
they turn to comforting things for their own reasons, too. Those
reasons don't necessarily have anything to do with parental
My now 22 month old daughter is a big fan of her binky -- and I can't
stand it. But it so obviously soothes her and fills a need that I
have to let my own feelings go and allow her to make this choice (for
now, at least). Ironically, I wish she were a thumb-sucker -- since I
was for many years myself, I understand that better (and find
thumb-sucking cute and binky-sucking *not cute*). I don't personally
feel that she uses the binky as a breastfeeding or other parenting
substitute, particularly since she was never a comfort-nurser anyway,
and because I know that my partner and I give her phenomenal amounts
I recommend that you look at all of the other ways in which you
provide your child with love, nurturance, affection, attention and the
fact that you're meeting all of his other basic needs and try to
believe that you're not doing anything wrong to cause his behavior --
he probably enjoys sucking his thumb and gets comfort from it. I'm
also a firm believer that our children do need to learn how to comfort
themselves, even as we practice those variations on attachment
parenting that fit our circumstances -- it's how they learn to put
themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night and how to trust
their surroundings by gaining an understanding that they can make
themselves feel better, too.
Good luck! Laurel
This is not really advice, but it is another story. I also read
Sears. I breastfed my daughter until she was 19 months old and we co
slept at least that long. She never sucked her thumb during that
time. It wasn't until she was about 2 1/2 that she started the
thumbsucking. She is now six and still sucks her thumb. The amount of
time she has the thumb in her mouth is slowly decreasing. I don't
know why she started needing her thumb. My first daughter stopped the
breast feeding at 12mos and never sucked her thumb. I guess different
kids have different needs and maybe this one needed to be breastfed
until she was four or something. It is a mystery to me.
I personally don't think that you should be so hard on yourself regarding
thumbsucking. My 7 month old daughter is an avid thumbsucker. We have her
on video sucking her thumb immediately after birth and are pretty sure she
must have done so in the womb. It's a huge source of comfort to her and
there is no way we would try to force a baby to stop what is, for her, a
natural thing. Interestingly, she never had any interest in pacifiers. So,
while we'll have to wean her eventually from the thumb, we don't have the
pacifier weaning problem! I was forced to stop breastfeeding earlier than I
wanted due to medical problems so can't speak to that part of the issue.
But I do think it is hereditary to a certain degree - both myself and my
husband were avid thumbsuckers. We were both from very happy, intact
families so I doubt that is part of it. I eventually stopped on my own with
no resulting problems. I never even had to have braces on my teeth! I
truly believe that experts' advice needs to be taken directionally and you
need to remember that every child is different. Hope this helps a little!
A long time ago, parents were made to feel guilty if they picked up their
crying baby when they weren't scheduled to respond. Now, parents are
feeling guilty because they don't instantly respond when the baby begins
to want to nurse. Can we have a little moderation here? If a parent is
usually attentive and loving, it's probably good for a baby to know that
occasionally they won't have their every need met instantly. If the move
away from the breast comes from the child, this may be a disappointment
to the mother (or not!), but it is a natural step in the child's
development. Children have their own pace of development, and there is
little we parents can do to influence it. If you are pretty good at
being loving and attentive, your baby's cessation of nursing doesn't mean
you've failed; it means your baby is growing up.
A child's thumbsucking can be seen as a sign of healthy autonomy--the
child knows s/he can comfort her/himself. Some children do suck very
intensly and may need help to outgrow this habit; however, many children
suck when they are little and give it up when they are older.
Thumbsucking is very common and generally benign, and not a reliable sign
of attachment problems.
I can imagine how hard it must be for you to feel that your nursing time
with your toddler may be coming to an end. If your older child nursed for
almost three years, you probably aren't ready to end. I don't know if you
will be able to hold on to a bit of nursing for a while longer, but I can
assure you that your willingness to let your baby suck on his (or her) fist
and thumb is not the reason s/he is less interested in nursing. Babies who
suck on a thumb or fist are doing so because they enjoy sucking. Many
babies are happy to use mom's breast for both nutrition and sucking comfort,
but some babies aren't. Sometimes it's because they are naturally less
cuddly types--they like to move or wiggle, not just hang out in mom's arms.
Sometimes it's because they don't like to overfeed--once their tummies are
full enough for their satisfaction, they don't want even a trickle of milk.
You might be able to keep the nursing going if you choose a few times a
day--perhaps early morning, before or after nap, and bedtime--when your
child is at his most relaxed. If you try to nurse him when he's not
interested, he may pull away even more (that is probably what would have
happened if you'd tried to nurse him more when he was a baby). Bill Sears
has some very good ideas, but he hasn't nursed a baby himself, and he may
not be familiar with a mom's intuition--most of us who have nursed a baby
"on request' develop a pretty good sense of what our babies need, not by
reading a book but by noticing how our own babies are feeling and acting day
I have a 15 month old baby that loves to suck her thumb. It provides
comfort to her when she's sleepy. Pacifiers do nothing for her.
Eventhough it looks cute, I'm concern that is will grow into behavior that
she will have a hard time giving up when she's older. As a matter of fact,
she's having a hard time giving it up now. The thumb sucking thing has
already caused one thumb to be longer than the other. Not to mention,
any germs that she picks up manually will end up in her mouth. Also
doesn't thumb sucking alter the position of the front teeth? I try to talk to
her about not sucking her thumb and she understands that mommy
doesn't want her to suck it, but as soon as she's tired, in the mouth it
goes. I guess she's too young to truelly kick this habbit. How can I
persuade her to not use her thumb as a mean of comfort?
My daughter sucked her thumb for eleven years. She was my third and I was just
too tired and also, sort of blase by then. I decided, since it made her so calm, (and
my extension, the rest of us) I could fix the teeth later.
She has perfect teeth, now, at age 15. She stopped easily at about age eleven, she
doesn't even remember how she stopped. She just told me she doesn't even
remember trying to quit, it just stopped. On her own she learned when she could do
it and when she she couldn't to avoid embarssment.
In terms of germs, they are going to get them anyhow, believe me. \
I am a huge believer in being way more blase about all this stuff, kids will definitely
outgrow most stuff if you let them be.
My daughter, now 5.5 yrs old, sucked her thumb inside the womb
until she was 4 years old. It provided her with so much comfort
over the years, that I never felt that I wanted to take it away
from her. Like your daughter, she never used pacifiers. Whenever
she would get tired, she would suck her thumb, and she never had
any problem falling asleep. The dentist said that as long as she
gave it up by the time her grown-up teeth came in (6.5 y.o or so)
there would be no damage to her teeth. As for germs, I tried to
use a wipe to clean her hands when I saw she was getting sleepy,
but that didn't always work.
She literally just stopped (without any urging from us) one day
right after she turned 4, and hasn't sucked her thumb since! My
second daughter (now 3.5) was not a thumb-sucker, and there were
plenty of times when she was tiny and had difficulty falling
asleep, that I had wished she was! I don't think you need to
worry, and take plenty of pictures to remember her that way. Now
we enjoy looking at the pictures together, and can't believe how
much she has grown since then!!!
This is so funny! I keep hoping my 6 month old WILL pick up the habit! She won't
take a pacifier, and I'm really tired of her using my breasts for the job! Listen, thumb
sucking really gets a bad rap that it doesn't deserve. My mother sucked her thumb
for 53 (yes, fifty-three!) years, with NO AFFECT TO HER TEETH WHATSOEVER! I
sucked my thumb untill I was 7, at which point my step-mother convinced me to
quit (and I did, it wasn't that difficult) and my teeth weren't affected up to that point
As for the germ issue, well, my mom's in terrific health. I think the germ thing is
really not something to worry about either: actually, it's very important for children
to pick up germs, so their immune systems are tested and get stronger. In fact, we
place our children in much greater danger of getting sick if we sterilize everything -
the immune system is like a muscle - it needs to be used in order to get stronger.
Otherwise, children will suffer many more illnesses, particularly as they get older,
because their immune systems are UNDERdeveloped - my grandmother was a family
doctor who stressed this point to her patients all the time.
All this is a long-winded way of saying that I vote that you let her suck her thumb,
and releive yourself of any worry!
Everyone has their own thumbsucking story. I sucked mine until I
was about 7, then my mom took me to a dentist who gave me a
retainer to wear. This acted to slow me down on the sucking and
I gave it up. Tho I can still remember how soothing it was to me.
My older son did not suck his thumb, tho my younger son did. He
discovered his thumb at about one month old. I could see it was
a great source of comfort to him. When he was a toddler and
preschooler, I would try to wipe his hands off before he would
relax with his thumb, in the car, reading on the sofa and before
As he got older the dentist would say to both of us, that it
would be a good idea for him to stop his thumbsucking. I felt I
could help him be aware of when he sucks during the day, but I
felt it would be impossible to deal with the bedtime sucking; I
didn't know what would be effective, mostly it seemed like I
would be ineffectually nagging. So I generally did not do much;
I wanted it to be a non-issue; I did not want a lot of attention
given to this habit. I remember reading something by
Brazelton that the child is in charge of his thumb, which made a
lot of sense to me.
To my surprise, my son stopped sucking his thumb on his own, with
no discussion on my part, at about the age of 5. It was
something I just gradually noticed about him. When I asked him
about it, he seemed to have been influenced by the dentist's
every-6-months chat about it.
you never know what will happen!
My son is 3 and sucks his thumb. He never took a pacifier and I
was so happy when I saw him doing it on his own starting at 3
months. He's an excellent sleeper because of it and I see how it
helps calm him down.
Our pediatric dentist also said not to worry about it and that
his daughter sucked her thumb until she was 12 and didn't have
crooked teeth. And a friend told me about an article in a
leading medical journal that said kids who are pressured to stop
sucking their thumbs tend to suck longer and not quit until a
later age (probably from the stress!).
As for the germs, I just make sure I give his hands a wipe when
we're going from one situation to another that I know will
result in thumb sucking. Such as getting in the car after
playing at the park, or taking him out of the shopping cart into
the car. But I'm not anal about it as I also believe that germ
exposure is good and strengthens an imune system. Oh, and I also
make sure to keep the nail on that thumb short so there's no
chance for gunk to get under it.
So my son, 2.5 years old, has an odd habit. He sucks his thumb,
pretty much all the time, which of course is common with some
kids. But while he does it...he ALWAYS either puts his finger in
his belly button, or (don't laugh) touches his nipples. It
brings him comfort all day...when he's tired, grouchy, hungry, or
even bored. He literally gets upset when he's wearing zip up
pajamas or overalls and he can't get access to his belly/nipples,
or when his clothes or carseat is in the way. He will yell out
until we help him out and remove/move whatever it is that is
preventing him access. It's at the point where we'll be in a
crowded place and people will turn and stare when he starts up
yelling ''NIPPLE!! Can't find it!!'' in a total panic as loud as he
can. Maybe some of you have heard us? :)
He breastfed till he was almost two, and was always touching
everything and putting stuff into his mouth and LOVES to eat. We
just figure he's very oral (thumbsucking) and tactile (needing to
touch his parts.)
My husband and I have always thought it was cute, maybe just a
quirky security thing that brought him comfort(he's otherwise
very typically developed and has hit all his milestones...other
than being very big for his age he's your very typical
happy/stubborn/curious little two year old.)
But..my MIL recently has made a point of how strange it is and
has asked a couple times if we'd talked to a pediatrician about
this, that it is some kind of repetitive fixation/compulsive
behavior. I feel silly calling him about such a thing, but now
I'm beginning to second guess myself. Is this anything to be
concerned about? Should I be trying to stop it? And the
touching himself aside, when/is thumbsucking something we should
try to discourage, and how? Or should I just tell my MIL to
chill out and let him thumbsuck/touch to his hearts content?
my 2yo DS also loves his belly button. A few parents of older
children love to see him touching his belly button as they fondly
recall their children doing the same. Let me tell you, there is
no searching for a lost blankie when extra comfort is needed -
just find the ever available belly button!
no issues here!
My 2.5 year old does the exact same thing. He has always been a thumb-sucker,
started with the finger in the belly button when he started to walk, and graduated to
the nipple a few months later. He gets mad when I diaper him if the diaper covers his
belly button, then laughs and breaths a sigh of relief when I uncover it. He unzips his
own pajamas at night so he has access to the nipple. I had to stop dressing him in
overalls or onesies for that reason. We have never considered it to be anything but a
cute and funny little quirk that I am sure he will grow out of at some point.
I can't tell you whether this is considered ''normal'' or not, nor
can I tell you how to ''fix'' it, but I do know that I was a
thumbsucker with great interest in my belly button for a number
of years. I think I turned out okay -- no odd body fixations
30-odd years later. I did get some mockery for the thumbsucking
when I got to an age where most kids weren't thumbsucking, but
eventually I grew out of both the thumbsucking and the
belly-button fixation. Based on my own experience, I wouldn't
worry too much about it -- I suspect you'd only make the innocent
habit something that he starts feeling guilty and conflicted
I did the same thing!!! When I was very young (toddler/preschool) I sucked my thumb
and rubbed a nipple with the other hand. I vaguely remember it, and how comforting
it felt. My parents still occasionally mention it and laugh about it (I have 3 young kids
now, so they're reminded of things that happened when my brother and I were little).
The good news--I think the nipple or bellybutton touching just goes along with the
thumbsucking, or binkie sucking--just another way little kids can comfort themselves.
I stopped the behaviors before kindergarten, and am a normal, well-adjusted, happily
married mom of 3! Don't worry, and don't try to get him to stop. He'll outgrow it.
I think thumbsucking + another body part is a common minority.
A relative sucked her thumb while messing with her belly button
until quite old, and she never had any other ''issues''. She was
actually very precocious. I've heard of others doing it too.
As for the nipples, if it is embarrassing in public maybe you
could teach him not to yell and have some kind of code word, or
sign language for it. Of course, check with your pediatrician
to alleve any worries, but as far as I know, it is just a way
that they discover to comfort themselves.
seen it before
My youngest is still
breastfeeding, he is 3 yrs 2 mos. He cannot nurse unless he has
his finger in my bellybutton. My middle son did this too. I
figured it was something to do with their hands while they nurse.
Children this age often have compulsive habits that they grow
out of soon enough. My opinion is that if you allow them to
indulge in these compulsive habits, it satisfies a deep need and
they will become more secure confident grounded people. However,
that doesn't mean you can't set limits on it. At 2.5 he is old
enough to do this. I don't know how you would do it with
thumbsucking - with nursing, we only nurse at home and only when
it is family around. Also, you could talk to him about making a
signal when he needs help finding his bellybutton, so he's not
screaming down the place. He just needs tools to help him make
it a more manageable habit.
My 2 1/2 year old son started sucking his fingers, apparently
for comfort, as a newborn. Everyone, including me, always
thought this was so cute and that it was so great that he
could 'self-calm' this way. Now that he is older and getting
ready to go to preschool in Sept, some have suggested that he
should stop doing this. He mainly does it when he is tired, or
when he has been upset. We actually sometimes encourage this
when he is having trouble calming down after a tantrum. It
works like a charm. If anyone else has any experience with this
and/or advice, I'd love to hear from you. I hate to tell him
not to do it because he seems to enjoy it so much, but if it is
really time to change this behavior we can work on it.
Time to kick the habit?
The finger sucking will just naturally lessen with time, as we
saw with our 5 year old. Trying to stop it will increase
everyone's anxiety for no good reason. As long as your doctor
& dentist see no potential teeth issues, there isn't a
problem. It is a good thing that he is able to self-soothe.
Mom to a happy thumbsucker
MAVALA STOP is the only solution that worked for us. My son
sucked his two of his fingers from the ages of 1 1/2 to about 6
1/2. It looked cute when he was small, but it became a HUGE
problem for us when he entered preschool and regular school.
Other kids and teachers were DISGUSTED by his habit. I felt
awful and we tried all kinds of remedies to help him kick the
habit but nothing worked until out of desperation I finally
found the only solution that brought a miracle. MAVALA STOP is
a product from Switzerland. It's a transparent formula that
doesn't have a smell but has a distinct bitter taste that will
discourage the finger sucking. My husband would place it on my
child's sucking fingers in the wee hours of the morning for two
weeks straight and my son wondered what was wrong with his
fingers and suddenly STOPPED and never again did he suck his
fingers. He's now 10 and it's a faint memory that he ever
sucked his fingers. Have your son kick the habit now that he's
small because you will all suffer as he gets older and people in
the real world will make it a point to let him know it's
disgusting and that will tear you apart. I'm not being harsh.
I'm speaking from experience. You can purchase this stuff on
Amazon. Good luck!!
Happy Mom of no fingers
I would like advice on how to stop my 2 year old son's thumb
sucking behavior. I have tried nail polish for baby to break the
habbit but without success. I have tried taping with band-aid
but he managed to get it off with his teeth (and pediatrician
does not recommend that due to choking hazzard). I will
appreciate any tips or experience of breaking this bad habit? I
am really concern becasue it causes bad dental growth and I can
already see significant cross bite in the upper teeth. Thanks.
I was a thumbsucker. I can't tell you what comfort it gave me.
I know this because I sucked my thumb pretty much all the way through
high school. Sure, it got less and less and I became very careful to do
it while I was alone in my room (by kindergarten, I knew that only
babies sucked their thumb but I couldn't help it - so I hid it!), but
like your little guy, there was no way my mom was going to get me to
quit. I needed it. I also have a near perfect bite. I didn't have any
problems with my baby teeth and no problems with my adult teeth either.
I begged for braces - there was no need. Have you been told that
thumbsucking is ruining his bite or is this a causal link you're making
because his teeth look like they're growing in funny.
So my advice to you would be that your son probably needs the comfort
that thumb sucking provides, so let him do it. I bet all the pressure
he's feeling about quitting makes him need it more. Would you be taking
away his binkie at this age if he sucked on that instead? Probably not.
Give him a while longer and stop pressuring him. As he gets a little
older he'll probably need it less and you'll both be happier if you stop
stressing about it.
I think your son is too young to stop the thumbsucking as it could be
tramatic for him. It's such a big source of comfort.
Our pediatric dentist told us not to worry about our son's thumbsucking
until he is older, say around when he starts kindergarten and is more
mature emotionally to handle it. A friend told me of a study that said
many children when forced to stop thumb sucking too soon actually get so
stressed that they tend to suck until a later age than those that are
allowed to stop on their own. He told us one of his kids sucked her
thumb until she was 12 w/out it affecting her teeth. My son's teeth look
like they are poking out because of the thumb, but actually he has the
same teeth alignment I had as a kid and I didn't suck my thumb. So your
son's bite might be hereditary.
I would encourage you to let your 2 year old suck his thumb. He is doing
it for comfort and to feel good. It's great that he has a way to soothe
himself! As he gets older he'll want to stop himself for social reasons.
It doesn't mean that he'll have bad
teeth- many non-thumbsuckers need braces, and many thumb suckers don't.
-former sucker w/ beautiful teeth
I feel sad that you are trying to stop your child from this natural,
self-soothing behavior at so young an age.
Children are meant to suckle throughout early childhood (the average age
of weaning globally is age 4).
It's hard to be small and powerless in a world that is often confusing;
sucking a thumb is a way to comfort oneself.
Please, give your little one a break! He will stop sucking his thumb
when he is old enough to soothe himself in other ways. As the old saw
goes, he will not go to college sucking his thumb.
As for his teeth, my dentist has said that there is nothing really to
worry about until permanent teeth come in.
Thumbsucking has a purpose!
Bottle Stops, Thumbsucking Starts (2.5-year-old)
My two and a half year old stopped asking for bottles last month,
started refusing to wear a diaper and found her thumb which is rarely
leaving her mouth. I have visions of deformed teeth and teasing but
I'm guessing that I just let her suck herself into a state of
comfort. Do parents of thumbsucking kids or former thumbsuckers have
any advice for me?
my 2nd daughter pulled out the pacifier at age 2 mos, plopped in the
thumb, and went to it for the next 10 years. this was a
security/safety thing for her, and was associated with her "lovey",
which she went no where without. she does have some changes in her
bite as a result of her thumb sucking, and over the years our well
intended dentist would talk to her about quitting, what she could do
to quit, etc. this became so stressful for her that i had to ask him
not to talk to her about it. her dad and i followed the "you'll
quit when your ready to" no pressure route. she occasionally got
some rough comments from family members about it, but the older she
got, the more the thumb sucking was contained to a bedtime routine,
not something she did all the time. i think that some kids just are
thumbsuckers, and quit when they are ready no matter what is done to
try to make them quit. in my daughters case, thumbsucking satisfied
some security need, and frankly i'd rather have a kid who felt safe
and secure (and eventually may need braces) than a kid who was
tweaked by something like thumb sucking. eventually, she decided
that SHE wanted to quit, started wearing a glove to bed at night, and
stopped very quickly (like in days). she has now been 2 months thumb
free, and is very proud of herself, especially because she thought of
how to help herself stop all by herself. my youngest (2 1/2 yrs) is
also a thumb sucker, and has been since he was born. he'll stop when
he's ready too! (by the way, my oldest, a non thumb sucker, has
braces. just about everything that can be wrong with her bite is.
I sucked my thumb until I was about seven years old. Of course many
people wanted to make me stop (fortunately not my own parents) and
all the cruel or threatening or humiliating things that grown-ups
would say to me only made me feel bad about myself and distrust
grownups, and didn't motivate me to stop in the least. No kids ever
said anything to me about it that I can recall. I feel certain that
even if my parents had joined the bandwagon, I would only have felt
worse and hiddenmy habit more, not felt inclined to stop. What
finally motivated me to stop was my own growth--my thumb didn't
fit in my mouth the same way at some point, and that bothered me, so I
stopped. By the way, I have an under-bite (the opposite of the buck
teeth that thumbsucking is supposed to cause), that has reappeared
now in my late 30's, even though I spent a couple of years in braces
as a young teen. I say let it be.
My now 8-year old son started sucking his thumb around age one, for no
discernible reason (he'd weaned himself around 6 months and had never
been interested in a pacifier). I did not try to dissuade him
because it was an obvious calming influence on him and helped him
learn how to soothe himself. He continued to suck his thumb (with an
elaborate related ritual involving a treasured object) until around 6
and was otherwise serene and happy. By the time he was 4 or so, I
started getting negative comments and attempts at interference from
my in-laws, etc. But I told them they needed to respect that the
thumb was important to him and that their comments were harming their
relationship with him and, miraculously, they backed off. Somehow, I
found the peace of mind that has eluded me on many other struggles
with my children to just tolerate it -- even though as he grew
older and entered school I could see he was getting subjected to some
teasing. He denied the teasing, which told me he needed to complete
the adjustment to school before letting go of the thumb. And then
one day he stopped. No big deal, no announcement, just lost
interest. A few days later I remarked gingerly that he seemed to be
sucking his thumb less. He just gave me that nonchalant oh-mom-
you're-so-clueless look and said, "yeah, I don't do that any more."
End of story.
As the parent of an almost 6 year who just stopped sucking her thumb 2
weeks ago, I'd advise you to leave it alone. 2 1/2 is awfully young
to try to stop the habit. There's so much else going at this stage,
you don't need one more battle. (Especially one you can't win.) Our
dentist (Denise Bass Allen), who has seen my child since she was 2 1/2
said we shouldn't make an issue of it at all before kindergarten. My
daughter's teeth are coming in fine, and as far as teasing, I haven't
seen that happen. It seems "older" thumbsuckers only do it in
privacy, like at bedtime, not in school. The kindergartners and 1st
graders I have seen sucking thumbs at school don't seem to be singled
out by their classmates. It sounds like you're doing well with much
more important things - giving up bottles and diapers - so don't let
this bother you.
Hello UCB Parents: Can anyone help me? I have two little children -
Tiana (6 years) and Georgie 4 years old who will be 5 in November.
Tiana sucks her thumb and Georgie sucks his first two fingers. Tiana
also plays with her navel while sucking her thumb and Georgie plays
with his ears. Now Tiana did not start sucking her thumb until she
was about 3 years old. She saw this bigger girl doing this on a daily
basis at her old child care. What can I do to stop them both - their
teeth are beginning to look a little crooked and they are putting
germs in their mouths. HELP!!!
Responses from Aug 1997
Ah, thumb-sucking. I'll bet you get quite a response on this one. If
you look around, you will find plenty of 8 and even 9-year old thumb
suckers. Today is the 7th birthday of mine. I can offer some ideas,
but mostly sympathy, because the ideas haven't eliminated the
behavior. Like your daughter, my son did not suck his thumb as an
infant. He picked it up around 2, while he was still on a bottle
(which, by the way, he gave up with no trouble before he was 3), and
developed an elaborate ritual that involves very precise fingering of
the buttons on particular pieces of old clothing. (This is quite
highly developed and articulated for him--the buttons must be a
certain size and preferably of metal because he likes the coldness,
the fingers move in one direction and not another, clothing should be
well worn flannel, etc.) I don't know what the motivation was, but I
suspect it was mostly the stress associated with that age. Around 4
or so, we began trying to stop it, with no luck, though we were able
to curtail the full ritual to certain occasions, etc. In general, the
only thing I have found successful is to restrict the behavior in
certain ways, rather than to attempt to eliminate it. Now, at 7, he
makes an effort not to suck in certain settings that he chooses for
his own reasons (for example, doesn't suck it in school but does at
his after-school care).
Here are my observations: the thumb-sucking is *both* a comfort
mechanism and a habit. The comfort mechanism has a number of
advantages--enables him to quiet himself down and move past
disappointments more quickly than his non-sucking sister and enables
us to gauge his mood (tired, sad, hurt). I have some respect for his
ability to calm himself and think it will serve him well in later
life, when he will replace his thumb with other rituals. The habit
piece, on the other hand, is tough. This child simply cannot keep his
hands out of his mouth. In his attempts to heed our admonitions not
to suck, he often substitutes nail biting or (heaven forbid)
nose-picking--both of which are at least as unhealthy and unappealing.
(This is particularly so because he has always been quite fastidious
about keeping his sucking thumb clean: like all thumb-suckers, he
wants the experience to be completely the same each time--if his thumb
tastes different or unpleasant, that spoils the pleasure. So he's
self-regulating in terms of hygeine.) My current strategy is to
actively separate the two behaviors. Thumb-sucking for comfort I
accept at home, in the car, and in other private situations,
particularly if he's tired, etc. Fingers in the mouth at any other
time I actively discourage (e.g., point it out everytime I see him
doing it -- we use a private hand signal so as to avoid embarrassing
him in public). My assumption is that he will stop sucking his thumb
when he's ready--my job is to help him understand, in a way that
doesn't threaten a behavior that he obviously holds dear, that fingers
in the mouth are *not ok*. This is not an ideal solution, but the
best we've been able to come up with, and I've decided this is not a
critical battle to fight.
Solutions that have been suggested and that worked to some degree, or
for a short time: (1) Take him to the dentist and have the dentist
deliver the message. I found that, as usual, every other authority
figure commands more attention than Mom. After being told by the
dentist that he needed to stop because this was not good for his
teeth, he actually made a serious effort for several weeks. Benefits
trailed off as the memory faded, but this may work for other kids.
(2) If the kid is willing (expresses a desire, but not an ability, to
reduce the sucking), cover the sucking thumb with a bandaid or
adhesive tape. Don't bother if the kid is not cooperative because it
will be removed. And also, prepare for the effect this produced for
me: substitution of another, similar, habit.
I am the parent of an 8 year old thumbsucker! I agree with the recent
comments about it. The schools my daughter went to absolutely forbid it
except at nap, and that worked out ok although for a couple of years she
was famous for wiggling a lot. I don't let her do it in public. She sucks
her thumb when tired, bored, or mildly upset, and it really helps her go to
sleep. She is a mild mannered child with no sleep problems at all. I have
tried to get her to stop from time to time, but have not been willing to
upset her, the family, and myself in the effort. I figure she will quit
when she decides it poses some social problem for her on down the line. It
is surprising how people who hardly know her at all feel it is their place
to get on her case about it if they see her doing it, and that has given
her a feel for the value of discretion. I tried to enlist the dentist,
but the dentist didn't think it was a problem in her case. So I am not
worrying about it.
My daughter used a pacifier as an infant until she discovered her
thumb at about 4 months. We never had to worry about losing the
comforter after that - it was attached to her. I think my daughter
sucked her thumb until she was between nine and ten. I really only
started to discourage it after all her permanent teeth were in as
I was worried that she would push her teeth forward from it. The
dentist did caution her at around eight years old and it worked
for awhile. By then she really only sucked at night and mostly I
think it was an unconscious action. I didn't really discourage her
until the teeth issue came up because I figured that in some way it
was a comfort and she needed it. A friend once said that they'd never
seen anyone get married sucking their thumb.
Anyway, my daughter is almost thirteen and I can't actually say when
she stopped the thumb-sucking, but she doesn't do it anymore. Given
my own childhood experience of being shown pictures of horribly disfigured
kids as an example of what would happen if I didn't stop biting my nails
I preferred to let my daughter outgrow her habit and her need.
My daughter stopped sucking her thumb in public once she got
embarrassed by it. She stopped doing it on her own and only did it
at home and then only at night. Let your child stop on his or her own
and don't let other adults comments get to you or your child.
From: anonymous mom
My 11-year old step-daughter is a long-time thumb sucker. Her parents
divorced fairly recently and her father and I married four months ago.
I understand that she does it to comfort herself and to calm herself
down when she is in situations she is unsure of. She leaves her
"lovies" at our home and her mother's home, and doesn't do it during
the day at school, I believe. (She's in 6th grade.) But from the time
she gets home her "lovey" is with her and her thumb is often in her
mouth. A year ago her mother forbade her to suck her thumb except in
bed at night. Her father and I felt that, with the disruption of the
divorce, our moving to a new home and then our marriage, she had
enough extra stress, and that forbidding this in our home might be
detrimental to her. We did ask her, however, to leave the "lovey" in
her bedroom when we are eating meals and not to suck her thumb when we
have guests or friends visiting. She is pretty good at following
Last weekend, we took her and her younger brother to some friends'
home for dinner. She was wearing a velveteen coat that is
particularly soft and seems to be a substitute "lovey" when she is
away from home. I found her on the couch in the living room with her
thumb in her mouth and the coat collar between her nose and mouth. I
told her quietly to stop, and she did, but she looked rather startled
I don't know if I am helping or hindering her. She is not making any
effort to stop sucking her thumb, at least that her dad and I can see.
When her best friend is at our home, she does it at times. Her father
and I cannot ask what she does in her mother's home, so we are at a
bit of a disadvantage there. Although she has made a pretty good
transition since the divorce and her dad's remarriage, and she and I
get along quite well, I do not know whether I should ignore it,
maintain the current prohibitions and keep reminders low-key, or make
more strenuous efforts to help her to stop. Any advice would be
I am the parent of three (mostly) former thumb suckers. Since I was a
thumb sucker myself and eventually stopped (around sixth grade, I think), I
never worried too much about it. Dentists were concerned about only one of
the kids: for that child (at age eight), an orthodontist prescribed a
special retainer. Like all orthodontic appliances, it seemed pretty
gruesome. But it worked in one hour. (No kidding.) Even that first
night, he didn't spit it out to suck his thumb, didn't revert to thumb
sucking when he took it out, and seemed quite pleased that he was done with
sucking his thumb.
I would say that the retainer option is for (dental) crisis situation only,
but it was certainly effective. My other kids stopped on their own; one
gradually over about a year (fifth/sixth grade); one made the decision
and stopped cold turkey (age 10). Neither had resulting dental problems.
I too, am the mother of an ex-thumbsucker. Our son also used a
retainer described by Emily. The good news is that it was
totally covered by Delta Dental.
Responses from Feb 1999
Here's my advice regarding finger sucking. My son and daughter
responded to this intervention. First, figure out what your child likes
to collect. Our item was my little ponies for t he girl, and for the
boy a lazer gun deal. Every day that the fingers are not sucked, I gave
a reward (a pony or cash toward the purchase of the gun.) Immediate
rewards are necessary. Also, there had to be a 10 day stretch of
successes, or the habit is not reliably broken. It generally takes
three weeks to establish new habits. Regression is not punished. Once
the item is earned, it's theirs. Check the child at night for sleep
sucking. Gently remove fingers if needed.
My daughter also sucked her fingers until she was 5, but she knew she
didn't want to when she went to Kindergarten. But it was hard not to
suck. When she wanted her fingernails painted (which, by the way, I am
strongly opposed to), I told her that the paint would come off if she
sucked, so she had to decide which was more important. She decided
paint and that was the end of sucking!
To the mother of the 6 year old who is sucking her fingers: I have an
almost 7 year old, who is/was (I hope) still sucking her thumb. You're
right - bribes don't work! My daughter was able to stop for an entire
month when promised the Halloween costume that she really wanted, but,
once Halloween passed, she was at it again, with a vengeance. Recently,
my sister and her 14 year old daughter were visiting. They told us
about the 14 year old's solution to quitting, which was to wear socks
over both hands at night. This keeps the child from putting
fingers/thumbs in at night, which seems somehow to break the cycle.
Also, on a recent trip to L.A., I bought my daughter a very large and
very gaudy ring. She puts this on her thumb and that too reminds her
not to (or doesn't allow her to) suck it. This isn't an overnight cure,
but seems to be working for my
Re: finger sucking. My sister sucked two of her middle fingers until
she was about 8 years old. She primarily sucked them to get herself to
sleep. In spite of much nagging on the part of my mother and dire
warnings about crooked teeth from the dentist, she only gave up the
practice when her finger grew so long they were gagging her. And her
teeth grew in perfectly straight.
My 8 year old is a reformed thumb sucker. She finally stopped - of her
own free will- last August. It happened after a visit to the dentist.
She finally understood the cause and effect of thumb sucking. She had
become unhappy with how her teeth looked (it wasn't that bad but
noticeable and she wouldn't smile in photographs). The dentist
explained to her that if she stopped sucking her thumb her teeth would
probably move back into place. It was something she wanted and was
willing to pay the price.
We didn't worry about the thumb sucking. In fact she was initially a
finger sucker until she horrified herself when she literally sucked off
her fingernail (yes, it was disgusting). I was amazed when she decided
to then suck her thumb. But she explained that she wouldn't lose her
thumb nail because of the placement in her mouth. Obviously thumb
sucking was very important to her. She really enjoyed it, and wasn't
embarrassed about it.
I was never a thumb sucker so I don't get it but I have a 40 yo friend
(thumb sucker) who remembers in pre-school how she would admire the
techniques of other thumb/finger suckers.
I'm not sure I have any words of wisdom but my daughter figurered it out
about finger sucking -- I think your ideas sound like they're right on
track, unless the finger sucking is symptomatic of your child being
painfully shy, introverted, not engaging with other kids. Otherwise,
I'd listen to my pediatrician, who told me, when I was concerned about
my five year old sucking her finger, what would you rather pay for,
dentist bills or psychiatry bills?
I am the mother of an avid thumbsucker. I'm not sure I agree with Dr.
Sear's theory that you should nurse your baby whenever he or she goes for
the thumb. In my case, there were times when my baby would pull off the
breast mid-feed to suck her thumb! I guess she was jonesing for a good
You've gotten lots of good responses already so I won't echo what others
have said, but I will say I have a 4 mo old baby who has been a fanatical
thumb sucker since the week he was born. In fact, I still have to yank the
thumb out of his mouth when offering him the breast to get him to pay
attention. When he was around 5 weeks old I read in an old Dr. Spock that
some thumb sucking can be staved off by nursing more - then I felt really
guilty for not nursing him round the clock. So you're not the only one to
have that reaction!
I made my peace with it this way: my baby has a big need to suck, and I'm
glad he can have that need met. I feed him as often as I think he's
hungry, but it doesn't strike me as helpful to always be giving him food
when sometimes he needs other sorts of comfort, which he seems to manage
for himself quite well.
Sounds like your son has a great mom!
Preschoolers & Older children
We have a new baby in the house (4 months old).
Our 3 year old seems to be adjusting well in most ways, but he has started
sucking on his fingers a lot and licking everything (books, toys, etc). I gently
redirect him ''that's not food'' or ''you are not a baby, you don't need to suck your
fingers''. It's kind of grossing me out... but I try not to pass that on or make a
big deal out of it. He does it more when he's sleepy or stressed out.
Anyone else run into this?
Suggestions to gently deter the behaviour?
ready for a bigger ''big'' boy
This sounds just like what my son went through a few months
ago. The bright side of it is now his sister is 8mo and it
is no longer an issue. My son developed a red rash that
hurt a bit from all the sucking and drooling and we showed
it to him in the mirror and had a talk about why he had the
rash. We got him on board with wanting to keep his hands
out of his mouth and we agreed with his input on what we
should say to remind him to keep his hands out of his mouth
(''hands down''). This worked a LITTLE because it made him
aware, but mostly what helped was extra attention w/o
pointing out he was sucking. I mostly took the fingers in
mouth thing as a cue of his insecurity and when I noticed it
I would give him extra snuggles and special time together
without drawing attention to it. I honestly think that is
the part of it that made a difference. The sucking was just
a manifestation of the anxiety he was feeling about his
place in our family and by helping him feel secure the need
for the sucking went away on its own.
I don't have any advice, but my 3 year old is doing the same
thing (he has a 6-month-old baby brother). He chews/sucks
non-stop on his shirt sleeves/collars and also his security
blanket. For the most part I just let him be and am hoping
he will outgrow it, but if it is something besides
clothes/his blanket - like small toys or things outside - I
tell him he needs to keep whatever it is out of him mouth or
I will have to take it from him (and then I do). But,
really, he is doing it without even knowing it or thinking
about it... I will be interested to see if others have advice!
Crazy making--my 3 1/2 year old is sucking his fingers--how do I
get him to stop this irritating habit. I have tried band aids
and reward sticker sheet neither one has helped. Suggestions?
Hi. My oldest son had his problem until he was 7 years old and
we tried EVERYTHING under the sun. The only remedy that helped
him kick the habit was this...www.mavala.com. We bought it,
used it, and he's never sucked his finger since. It took only 2
dabs of the stuff that we placed on his finger while he was
asleep and never again! Use it...it works!
been there, too
Finger sucking is like thumb sucking and is for comfort and
security. Studies have shown the more you try to force a child to
stop finger sucking, the more likely they are going to do it and
they will probably do it for longer because of the anxiety it
causes. Our pediatric dentist said his daughter sucked her thumb
till she was 12 and didn't need braces.
My son was a thumb sucker starting at 3 months. I actually was
kind of relieved he had this habit as it helped him through some
stressful times, like adjusting to preschool. He gradually
outgrew it as he got older, around 4 or 5 it was only at night to
go to sleep, then only when he was sleeping. It stopped before he
I can understand how this habit might be annoying to you.
However, it's important to remember that ALL young children's
behaviors originally come from a need. If you can take the time
to understand what need got him sucking his fingers in the first
place and/or what need the sucking is serving now, you will go a
long way towards being able to meet that need in another way.
This route might take a bit more attention/time/energy, but will
ultimately pay off - both in terms of stopping the behavior, and
also in terms of raising a more whole child.
Infantile needs that don't get met at their original stage(s)
persist - I certainly know plenty of adults still trying to get
their infantile needs met in all kinds of strange ways :)
Our son, now 5 1/2, is an avid thumbsucker and has been since in
utero. The problem is he adamantly refuses to stop, even after a
trip to the dentist, who told him he was starting to create a
real issue with his teeth and jaw development. We have tried
cutting back slowly, such as ''no thumb sucking while in the
car'', which only works depending on his mood and fatigue level.
He doesn't just suck at bedtime, but whenever...listening to a
story, watching a video, walking around...not just when he's
relxing or trying to go to sleep. I've seen something
called ''Thumbguard'', a plastic device worn on the hand, and know
of the option of putting something across the roof of his mouth -
both avenues seeming kind of drastic and Draconian (in terms of
making a young boy give up his lifelong, beloved habit). Any
ideas/experience in getting avid thumbers to give it up, gently
and without artifical aids? Reward systems? Begging and bribery?
We'll try anything - thanks!
Hoping to avoid orthodontist bills
As with just about anything to do with kids, there are many
opinions out there. We just saw a pediatric dentist and when we
asked him at what age should we start getting concerned about
our son's thumbsucking, he said not to worry at all. He said
that he didn't believe it is an issue with the teeth and he let
his own daughter grow out of thumbsucking on her own. It is
such a comfort to children that it can be very traumatic to
take it away from them. Your son will probably cut down on the
thumbsucking when it becomes socially unacceptable for him to
do it (i.e. gets teased).
I would get a second opinion based on your son's mouth from a
pediatric dentist, especially if you are taking your son to a
dentist that isn't specialized in children.
My 6-year-old daughter has also been thumb-sucking since in
uterus (we have an ultrasound picture as proof!) About a year
ago when she was still in preschool, I followed the approach in
Rosemarie A. Van Norman's book, Helping the Thumb-Sucking Child:
A Practical Guide for Parents, and started seeing good results.
However, neither her preschool teacher nor my husband supported
it because they knew nothing about the book/approach, and
because they both believed that my daughter would stop when she
entered kindergarten where other kids would point out (laugh at)
I struggled for a few more weeks, my daughter went back to the
old habit since I was the only one encouraging the progress she
had made, and the whole thing felt apart. I then stopped all the
activities except for asking her to keep the good habit of not
sucking on thumb at bedtime, which she has been trying to do.
She started kindergarten last Fall, and was indeed laughed at
quite a few times by some kids. Did it stop her from thumb-
sucking? NO. She talked about being laughed at, told me she was
a bit sad, and said she wanted to but couldn't stop sucking on
her thumb. So, we started Rosemarie A. Van Norman's approach
again, but this time it hardly worked -- she would rather give
up attractive incentives than stop sucking, even though she
knows it's hurting her baby and grown-up teeth, as her dentist
has told her.
It's been 4 months now, and we've made very slow and small
progress. We band-aid her thumb 24/7, but she almost always
takes it off at school, so I now also paint her thumbnail with
Thum (a ''bitter-tasting, but harmless pure vegetable product''
according to the label) and then put on the band-aid every
morning. This way, she can only suck on her thumb in the
afternoon when the yucky taste goes away.
I try not to push for bigger and faster progress in order not to
put pressure on her; nevertheless, her thumb-sucking behavior
became worse for a while because she knew she was going to give
up something she loved so much for so long. I also worry about
her tongue and jaws -- thumb-sucking kids tend to position their
tongues forward, sort of unconsciously, rather than in a
neutral position, and a lot of them end up having problems with
their jaws because of constant pressure caused by incorrect
By sharing my failed experience, I hope you 1) check out
Rosemarie A. Van Norman's excellent book, and 2) make sure
everyone (teachers, family members, the other parent...) is on
the same page before you start the program. With a lot of
encouragement, I'm sure your son will start making progress,
gaining confidence, and successfully getting rid of his habit.
Good luck, and I'm also looking forward to hearing from other
parents with positive experience to share!
well, here's a highly opinionated ex-finger-sucker's response: please
don't worry about your child's habit. It will go away when he's ready. My
mom was worried when I hit 6th grade and was still sucking my fingers.
She tried the paint-on stuff, the punishment route... you name it. Finally,
a dentist suggested he install special spikes that would hang down from
the roof of my mouth and pierce my skin if I sucked, so she did it. The
first night I sucked right through the pain. You can imagine the blood.
My mom, naturally, had the spikes removed immediately and gave up.
Believe me, I wanted to stop -- no one was sucking their thumb or
fingers in 6th grade (though no one really teased me). Within the year, I
stopped of my own accord -- just didn't do it one day. I don't think it hurt
me: I am an Ivy League graduate, with a masters degree and a law
degree, so it didn't affect my academics; I don't have buck teeth so it
wasn't a cranial-facial problem; and I'm fairly well adjusted for growing
up in the 60's in berkeley. Your son needs to do this right now. For
what it's worth, I'm not all that touchy feely of a parent -- it's just that
having been on the other side of this issue, I can tell you your son
probably just needs to do this.
two-fingers til 7th grade
I was a thumbsucker as well, I stopped much later than 5 years
old. I wanted to stop - but couldn't help myself, it was
habitual. We taped popsical sticks or wooden tongue depressors to
my thumb at night - the wood tastes and feels awful in the mouth
and served as a reminder, and eventually I lost the habit. I
don't remember how long it took, maybe a 2-3 weeks. I don't know
if it will work if he doesn't want to quit though...It's never
fun to break a bad habit.
I was a serious thumbsucker as a child, but I remember slowly reducing
the times I allowed myself to suck my thumb (only at home, only at
bedtime) but never quit totally until I was almost 12. My parents made
mild attempts at helping me stop ( most memorable was the bitter stuff
on the thumb) but pretty much I was allowed to do it myself.
My son, however, had serious orthodontic problems (extreme overbite
and small lower jaw) and his orthodontist was adamant about getting
him to quit at five. They installed the ''gate'' and he gave it up without a
fuss. He's a pretty easy-going guy, and I admit I felt worse about it than
he did! He is on his second round of orthodontic treatment now and will
be in braces through high school.
My advice? Either way is OK, but listen to your orthodontist! The
orthodonture is much more traumatic than the ceasing sucking. I was
just lucky to have a pretty good bite that I didn't mess up with my thumb.
Also, as a teacher, I HATE seeing kids with their thumbs in their mouths
at school - such a great way to pass germs around to the rest of us. (And
yes, I was sick a lot as a kid)
I sucked my thumb until I was 14 years old. My parents
decided that I would stop when I was ready, and I did. I did
end up with minor tooth problems, which were easily fixed
by orthodontia. Personally, I think that the comfort and
security my thumb gave me was SO WORTH IT. My
daughter sucks her thumb now, and I plan to let her do so
as long as she wants to. Just wanted to give you another
point of view.
Maybe this will set your mind at ease a bit: I sucked my thumb
until I was 15. (15! Egads!) I'm not proud of it. But I have
beautiful teeth (every time I go to the dentist, he and his
hygienist ooh and ahh over my teeth) and never had orthodontia
because I lost my retainer within 10 days and my mom refused to
buy another. I think there's now some difference of opinion
over the longterm effects of thumb-sucking on children's teeth.
So . . . maybe a second opinion would be helpful?
Former Teenaged Thumbsucker
Within the last month or two, Brazelton had an article on thumbsucking
in his weekly newspaper column. I tried to find an internet link, but lack
the skills : (
Being a former thumbsucker (thru age 7) and having a 4 year old
thumbsucker, I was struck by the sensitivity of this Brazelton article; it
was the most thoughtful, child-focused article I have ever seen on this
topic. As I remember it, it pointed out that the child is in charge of this
behavior, and you really have to work with them on understanding their
readiness for change and help motivate them as necessary.
My 6 year old son sucks on his fingers intermittently during the night and
whenever tired during the day. From his first dentist visit, the dentist saw
problems with his bite. We've tried encouragement, etc to help him stop this
habit. But he cannot. Now the dentist is recommending a ''habit retainer''. I've
looked online and many dentists say this is a VERY successful way of ending this
habit. But I can't find anything from the parent perspective. If your child has
had a habit retainer, how did those first couple weeks go and, more importantly,
did the habit retainer end the habit?!
thanks for any help!
My 7 year old daughter was placed with a ''habit appliance''
(ie. it attached to her back molars and was not removable
except by the dentist) because she was a major thumb sucker
and ''just couldn't stop, Mommy''. We did it in the summer
because it did affect her speech, just a bit, and I didn't
want kids to notice it. After 2 months, the habit was
completely broken. The first night was hard for her; she
didn't know how to go to sleep, so we got stuffed animals,
and I layed down with her for a couple of days and I
scratched her back to help her relax. And then she took
pride in the fact that she was able to ''beat'' her habit.
After 2 months, the day before school started, we removed
the appliance and then she was on her own. After 30 days of
no thumb sucking without the appliance in (sticker chart),
she earned her ears to be pierced. My husband is a dentist
and he said to mention that he has 100% success when he
places these appliances.
Big Girl Mama
We had success in ending my 5 year olds finger-sucking
using Mavala Stop, which I got on-line after reading
recommendations for it on the BPN. It only took one
application, plus the incentive of a reward at the end of
30 days if he had stopped. This doesn't answer your
question, but I thought I'd offer it as it's probably
cheaper than a retainer...
always looking for the cheaper option
My 9 year old daughter has had a non-removable habit
retainer for two months. The first week she was completely
miserable, but since then it has been fine. I am amazed
that her teeth are going back into alignment already.
However, I'm yet not convinced her habit will not return
once the retainer is gone.
-- a mom
Look into ''Mavala Stop-Nail Biting and Thumb Sucking
Prevention''. We got ours on Amazon and it took our
3-year-and-one-day old guy about four days to completely
break the two-year habit.
no longer consuming vast quantities of germs
My 6 year old daughter is in 1st grade (she is the youngest in
her class) and is quite mature and advanced in many ways except
she still sucks her thumb at night and when she is tired or
watching TV. Her palate has already protruded quite a bit and
she has not yet lost any baby teeth.
Should I make this an issue with her at this point or allow her
to give it up on her own? Also do I need to seek dental advice
beyond her two annual checkups with my dentist?
Mom of a very wrinkled thumb
I sucked my thumb until I was ten. On my tenth birthday, I
woke up and decided I was done - I quit cold turkey. I went on
to earn a Master's degree, have a career, and start a family.
If your dentist isn't worried, I wouldn't be either.
My 6 year old daughter sucks her thumb. She was a pacifier baby,
and while we managed to get her off of this, she almost
immediately started sucking her thumb once she stopped (actually
she ''got the idea'' from a kid in her preschool class - she was
about 4 and 1/2 at the time). My daughter is very oral. At
times she will suck on her blanket (yes she has a blanket) and
has other similar behaviors. She has seen an OT and her symptoms
are certainly considered mild. I am not really worried about
them. However, we went to the dentist today (she has lost her 4
front teeth) and he really feels she needs to stop sucking her
thumb. He was firm (though not stern) with her and wanted me to
back him up. In the car she started crying saying she does not
want to stop sucking her thumb. My gut feeling is that I don't
want to push her to stop either. I know we would never use any
of those aversion methods, I just don't believe in that - and I
can't reason with her about this - I mean I can a little bit, but
she is only 6. My mother has told her that she sucked her thumb
until she was 11 (thanks Mom!) so my daughter has this in her
head too. I would really love to hear some advice from folks -
specifically about whether I should push it or not, and if you
have gone through a similar experience. I am pretty sure she
will need braces no matter what, so I am OK with that... I just
don't want to traumatize her, she is little for only so long!
Who else? Thumb suckers mom.
I sucked my two fingers until I was in the 4th grade. My
parents tried everything to get me to stop -- nagging, nasty
flavored stuff on my fingers, bribes, etc. It really did
nothing except aggravate me. I eventually stopped when I was
ready. I think the one thing my parents did that was helpful
is offered a big toy once I stopped (at the time it was a
cabbage patch kid). It was nice to have that to focus on as a
goal to help with the hard times of quitting. I think it would
have been best for my parents to offer the reward for stopping
and just leave it at that -- none of the other nagging.
My daughter's version of this was sucking on the end of a washcloth. A good friend
(and psychologist) whose now-grown son sucked his thumb gave us the following
advice. ''I have very strong feelings about this. Early on, I made the decision to pay
the orthodontist instead of the psychiatrist. That's overstating it of course, but there
will be an effect on your child no matter which course you choose. Sucking
something is a child's way to self-soothe. We all do some version of that, but by
doing something noticable, kids simply wear their hearts on their sleeves. In that
sense, what she is sucking is a sort of love object. My feeling is that love objects
should not be removed unless they prevent the child from experiencing normal live.
... I was constantly admonished by my son's dentist, who was very upset about my
allowing him to suck his thumb. The dentist even tried to shame him about it. Sorry.
I think the world is bigger than teeth. An imperfect smile can be fixed. Insecurity is
a lot harder. By the time he was ten or so, my son decided he was 'done' sucking his
thumb, and it slowly faded out. For our family, that resolution was a lot better than
my nagging, shaming, or bribing him.''
Sure enough, my daughter's sucking habit faded out, too. She's a teenager now,
and frankly, I sometimes wish that she had something so simple and effective to
soothe the tensions of her day. My two cents is why hurry it?
older and wiser
I sucked my thumb forever, and have perfectly straight teeth
without braces. My parents' approach was to put limits on it -
only in my room, etc - and I stopped doing it publicly probably
around age 6. It was an incredibly comforting habit, and for
whatever reason, I needed that extra comfort! Good luck.
I was a thumb sucker as a child. I distinctly remember going to the dentist
before I had lost any teeth and he said that I would have to stop sucking my
thumb once I lost a tooth. On father's day when I was 6.5 years old, I lost a
tooth. And I stopped sucking my thumb that day. I spent the day in mourning;
Apparently I held my right thumb by my side and just started at it all day. That
night my mom had to rock me to sleep, but after that day I was fine, though I
did like to put my hand under my cheek at night. My point being, to stop
sucking your thumb cold turkey is definately an impressinable moment in a
child's life, but it can be done. I say go for reason with your child, don't try the
aversion methods of painting the nail or whatever. Your child can handle the
truth, and will be stronger because of being able to quit.
Our daughter sucked her thumb (and truthfully I felt so lucky
when she was an infant and toddler! She waas a phenomenal
sleeper from 3 months on, which of course corresponded with her
ability to find her thumb and soothe herself!) Yes, we worried
about her teeth. The dentist told her that she would need to
stop sucking when she lost her first tooth. We all talked about
it for months-- to help her get used to the idea. When she
lost her tooth, she took the dentist's comments seriously and
stopped. She also had a ''lovey'' (in this clase, a doll) which
she turned to more to ''take the place'' of her thumb, I guess,
and give her comfort and help in falling asleep
The one thing we didn't realize for nearly a year was that she
still did sucked her thumb in the middle of the night without
even knowing it. So, once we discoverd that, then after she
went to bed at night, we'd come and put a sock on her thumb-
sucking hand, which worked just fine. Within a year of that,
she lost the need.
-Broke the habit gently, but broke it
My son sucked his thumb until he was in the 2nd grade. We tried
painting his thumb with stuff that was bitter, spicy, etc. We
tried putting a bandage on and this worked for awhile (until he
learned to simply take it off). Finally, we 'bribed' him. We
told him that if he go for 1 day without sucking his thumb, he
would get a small toy; we did the same thing the next day and the
day following. We knew that if he could make it 3 days w/out
sucking his thumb, the habit would be broken. At the end of 1
week, we told him he could pick out anything he wanted
(nervously). He picked out a bin of Legos and hasn't sucked his
thumb since. That was 3 years ago. Now my daughter sucks her
two middle fingers (she's almost 3). It drives us crazy, but
since we've been through this before, we're willing to wait it
out. We feel that although it seems like they'll never stop,
they have to make the decision on their own. Good luck!
'Happy' to wait it out
I wanted to add my support to your gut feeling. I sucked my thumb until I was 7 (well
after losing my front teeth). My mom, on the other hand, sucked HER thumb until she
was FORTY-seven! Neither of us has had ANY PROBLEMS with our teeth as a result. We
both have perfectly straight front teeth.
Would Still Be Sucking If Not For My STEP Mother
My son will be 6 in early fall and starting 1st grade. He has
been a committed thumbsucker since in utero, and cannot possibly
stop on his own (sometimes willing, sometimes cannot take it out
at all). The dentist has said his jaw already shows signs of
damage and his baby teeth have such an overbite that I can fit a
finger between his upper and lower teeth. The problem is that he
is now starting to lose teeth (2 loose already) and that's the
time our dentist (and others, I've read) says is imperative to
end the habit to avoid permanent damage to adult teeth and bite.
We are going to an orthodontist, who will probably recommend
either a device worn on the thumb and hand or something worn
inside the mouth. I personally think inside his mouth would be
preferable - no one would see it and he would eventually get so
used to it he wouldn't notice it. Cost is not an issue here, but
I am wondering whether anyone else has experience -or advice -
with these or other devices. He is somewhat willing to stop and
understands the importance of it, but it's really hard for him
to give it up on his own, especially at night - I don't feel I
am forcing this on him, but he needs some help. Tips?
Want to Avoid A Dental Nightmare
Well, I don't know about devices, but I just wanted to reassure
you that I was a committed thumbsucker as well until age 12.
really, all the time I wasn't around my peers, my thumb was in my
mouth. Despite dentists dire warnings, sworn necessity of
braces, mom's attempts at nasty tasting stuff on the thumb, etc,
I continued until I myself decided to stop. I never had braces
(it was out of the question financially then), I think my teeth
are just fine now at age 39. Maybe I have a slight overbite,
but I don't think it's very noticeable. he'll stop eventually.
I was a thumbsucker until I was 10 years old (after about 5 or
6, grade school, I only sucked while sleeping or when I watched
TV). I have perfectly straight teeth and never had any
My parents tried everyhting and it didn't matter. I needed that
thumb and wasn't going to give it up. They even tried dipping my
thumb in jalepeno licquid from the jar, I sucked it anyway.
Wasn't until I went to camp and woke up with my thumb in my
mouth and feared I had been seen...that scared me straight.
Didn't suck after that.
Say the serenity prayer and give it up. They won't suck as an
adult and their own feelings of needing to give it up will be
what propels them.
Most dentst don't believe anymore that thumbsucking causes
and I don't have any oral fixations, like smoking, as an adult.
Oh, so many years ago, I was a thumbsucker. About age 7, my mom got
the pressure to have me stop. So she shopped around, and went with a
dentist who recommended that I wear a retainer, especially at night. I
remember taking the retainer out for a bit at night to suck my thumb
relax, but usually put it back in before I fell asleep. As I remember
was a successful, gentle intervention for me. My thumb just didn't fit
my mouth right with the retainer in there. As I watch my young son
now, I see him sucking his thumb totally unconsciously, and see how a
similar device may help him, if that time comes.
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