Putting an End to Thumb-SuckingThumb-sucking is normal, and often instinctual, for very young children. Mom and Dad might even see their baby doing it in utero during an ultrasound. Although it’s cute and expected in young children, parents can become concerned and frustrated when thumb-sucking extends into later childhood years.
By the time your daughter reaches her fourth birthday, she should no longer be sucking her thumb. Beyond age 4, thumb-sucking can cause tooth and jawline problems, like overbites, and even speech issues. The action is often triggered by shyness and stress, and parents often fear that a child’s inability to give up the habit is a sign of emotional immaturity. Studies have shown that not to be the case for most children, though.
What can you do to help your child kick the thumb-sucking habit? Don’t force the issue too much, advises well-known pediatrician and author Dr. Alan Greene. It can actually have the opposite effect and cause the child to cling to the habit. Try one of these ideas:
APPLY SOMETHING THAT TASTES YUCKY TO YOUR DAUGHTER’S THUMB TO MAKE THE SUCKING LESS APPEALING. There are items sold for just this purpose. Some parents use pickle juice or vinegar. If the thumb-sucking persists, you might need to switch up what you’re applying as she could develop a taste for a particular thing.
PUT A BAND-AID ON. This may cause the thumb to lose “texture” appeal.
OCCUPY HER HANDS BY HAVING HER CARRY SOMETHING. This replaces one habit with another, but the new one is not physically harmful.
GIVE HER THE CHANCE TO CHOOSE TO STOP ON HER OWN. If she wants to stop, you can remind her when she’s slipping. If she is not ready to kick the habit, don’t harp on her when she does it.
HAVE OTHERS POINT OUT WHEN HER THUMB IS IN HER MOUTH. Ask some of her friends or other adults whose opinion she values to tell her when she’s sucking her thumb and why she should stop.
REWARD SUCCESS. If your child is doing well in her quest to end thumb-sucking, make sure to acknowledge that. Setting up a reward system is a great way to offer encouragement.
You may have visions of your daughter heading off to college, one hand on the steering wheel and one in her mouth, but don’t despair: 85 to 99 percent of children who suck their thumbs spontaneously give it up before age 4 or 5.
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