Thumbsucking is a common habit that children develop in their early years. It’s a natural reflex and often a source of comfort. Unfortunately, it’s not a harmless habit. Thumbsucking can cause many developmental problems for a child including speech delays and dental issues. From an oral perspective, according to the American Dental Association, thumbsucking can cause alignment issues, growth problems, and can even alter the roof of the mouth.
Thumbsucking is a comforting habit for children, and it can be especially difficult to break. While there isn’t a guaranteed method, the tips below can help ease the transition for your child:
1. Talk to your child. Sometimes the best thing you can do is also the simplest. Explain to them why they need to try to stop sucking their thumb, and listen to their concerns and questions. Be as gentle as possible. Make sure they understand “why” as opposed to just hearing “no.”
2. Replace the comfort. Ask your child if they would like another soothing item to turn to instead of their thumb – for example, a blanket, a stuffed animal, or a “lovey.” If you see them sucking their thumb, gently ask them if they’d like to snuggle with their favorite blanket or hold their favorite toy instead. Slowly incorporating a new, less harmful habit, to children often makes it easier for them to leave their bad habits behind.
3. Wean them slowly. As an adult, you understand how hard habits can be to break! Try helping your child break the habit in stages. For example, you could set “limits” on their thumbsucking to start by telling them they can suck their thumb in bed only. Slowly decrease the times they can partake in the habit and monitor their progress.
4. Enlist older siblings, relatives, or friends. Children respond well to their peers. Chat with an older sibling, friend, or relative who can help encourage your child to quit the habit while also demonstrating good behavior. If you choose this method, make sure the other child knows to be kind and not bullying when discussing thumbsucking with your child.
5. Chat with your pediatric dentist. He or she will be able to offer professional advice, encourage good oral habits with your child, and help you explain to your child the consequences of thumbsucking.
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