Berkeley Parents Network
Google Custom Search
Home Members Post a Msg Reviews Advice Subscribe Help/FAQ What's New

BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website! Read more, and see how you can help: BerkeleyParentsNetwork.org

Advice about Thumbsucking

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Worries Big & Little > Advice about Thumbsucking


Babies & Toddlers Preschoolers & Older children Related Pages

Babies & Toddlers


1+ year old sucking his thumb raw!

Dec 2011

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 thumb sucking. 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 certain. 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. anon
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! anon
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

7-month-old thumbsucker's raw, red thumb

Sept 2007

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... Christina
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! smooth mama
Try Lanisoh (nipple cream). AP
I have heard that all of Burt's Bees products are completely edible. anon

Encouraging 1-week-old to suck thumb, not pacifier

April 2004

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? Sarah


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. thumbsucker's mom
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. Erin
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. Margaret
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 bottle nipples. anonymous
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 luck! 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, etc). 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 a guess. KB

6-month-old's hands and face constantly wet from fingersucking

Jan 2006

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? genevieve


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

Nov 2000

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! Carla
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 him. Dashka


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. H
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 shortcomings.

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 of ourselves.

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! Jill
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. Louise
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 by day. Meg


15-month-old loves to suck her thumb

Feb 2006

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? anon


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. Liz


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 either.

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! Anonymous


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 bed.

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. anon


May 2009

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? Stumped


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. fellow mom
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 about.... anon
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. Berkeley mom
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. good luck. Anon

2 1/2 year old sucking his fingers

Jan 2007

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

How to stop 2-year-old's thumb sucking

Jan 2007

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. Frustrated mom


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. Anon
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. anon
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)

April 1999

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. go figure!)
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.
From: Jo

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


From: Nina

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.


From: Lynn

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.


From: Debby

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 this.

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 and unhappy.

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 welcome.


From: Emily

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.


From: Keiko

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


From: Shirley

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. Good luck


From: Barbara

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!


From: Ann

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 daughter!


From: Dianna

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.


From: Kathryn

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 for herself.


From: Andrea

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 non-nutritive suck. Margaret
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! -Charis

Preschoolers & Older children


3.5 year old sucks her thumb all the time now

Aug 2012

My daughter is almost 3.5 years old. She sucks her thumb and it used to be just when she was tired, hungry or felt nervous...but it seems to be all the time now. She sucks her thumb 80% of the day. When she does this, she picks at her face and she has three scars now. We tried a while ago to do a glove...we may go back to that. I have talked to her about it.

We visited the dentist and the dentist told her that her teeth will ''move'' if she continues to suck. I spoke about this with my daughter and spoke about how it is a bad habit- and she doesn't need to do it anymore...being a big girl and all. She is kind of on board. Any advice on how to get her to stop? I was going to try the glove again...or replace it with something- not sure what. Thoughts or experiences?


I'm pro-thumbsucking - I sucked my thumb FOREVER and never had any orthodontic problems. I was an anxious kid, and it was very relaxing. After maybe 6yrs, my parents only let me do it in my room.. so it became a private activity.

Seems like the picking at her face might be the bigger issue. I know a young friend who rubbed her eyebrows while sucking - I held a blanket, so that kept my hand busy. Maybe you could work with her to change the picking behavior and put some limits around where she can suck her thumb? Just a thought. Good luck! thumbsucker


3 year old sucking on fingers

April 2012

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? Thanks! 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. been there
Hello, 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! Good luck!

3 1/2 year old is sucking his fingers

Sept 2009

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? anon


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 turned 6. anon


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 :) Best, Kendra


Stopping Thumbsucking at 5 1/2

April 2004

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. anon


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) her thumbsucking.

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 tongue positioning.

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! Chris


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. anon
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) Linus


Hi, 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. Devil's Advocate
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. eve

6 yr old finger sucking & ''habit retainer''

May 2010

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

6 year old thumb sucker - make it an issue?

Jan 2009

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. Former sucker

Thumb sucking 6-year-old - how to handle

Nov 2008

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! thanks all! 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. Anonymous
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. anon
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. former thumb-sucker
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

How to stop 6-year-old's thumbsucking

June 2004

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. karen
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 orthodontic needs. 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 problems and I don't have any oral fixations, like smoking, as an adult. anon
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 and relax, but usually put it back in before I fell asleep. As I remember it, it was a successful, gentle intervention for me. My thumb just didn't fit into my mouth right with the retainer in there. As I watch my young son sleep now, I see him sucking his thumb totally unconsciously, and see how a similar device may help him, if that time comes. jewel
Home   |   Post a Message  |   Subscribe  |   Help   |   Search  |   Contact Us    

this page was last updated: Jul 16, 2013


The opinions and statements expressed on this website are those of parents who subscribe to the Berkeley Parents Network.
Please see Disclaimer & Usage for information about using content on this website.    Copyright © 1996-2014 Berkeley Parents Network