Weaning Kids Off Thumb Sucking: 6 Dos & Don'ts

sucking thumb

If you have a baby who is comforted by thumb sucking, it can be a relief. Thumbs can't be accidentally forgotten at home, and you don't have to keep buying more -- the way you do with pacifiers. But Moms, let's talk about what happens when it's time for your tot to give up their precious thumb.

You can take a pacifier away from a baby, but you can't cut off your child's thumb and throw it away! So how do you wean a thumb sucker? Help is on the way!

Here are the experts' dos and don'ts for breaking your child of the thumb sucking habit.

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How to Stop Kids From Sucking Their Thumbs

1. Do get your child on board. "It's important to get a commitment from your child that they will try to stop the behavior because ultimately they need to 'own' the behavior," explains Dr. Priti Naik, a family dentist in Vienna, Virginia. 

2. Don't use bandages or bittering agents on the thumb as a punishment. If you're using them as a reminder, it's OK to do something that makes the thumb taste "bad," sparingly, Naik says, but remember this is a tough time for kids. Punishing them isn't going to help anyone. 

More From The Stir: Thumb Sucking: What It Really Does to Children's Teeth

3. Do use rewards. Sticker charts, prizes, whatever works in other developmental areas (such as potty training) are a good incentive to break the thumb sucking habit. "Positive reinforcement and encouragement for the child will ultimately change their behavior," says Dr. Naik.

4. Don't plop your kids down to watch TV while you're weaning. As tempting as this might be to get dinner finished, Dr. Naik warns mindless activities such as TV-watching are typical times when kids will "subconciously" suck on their thumbs. Limiting these activities is crucial during this time.

5. Do provide distractions. Hands that are busy coloring pictures or building block towers are hands that are not in their mouth!

More From The Stir: Weaning Kids Off Pacifiers: 7 Dos & Don'ts

6. Don't let the behavior go on past 4. Thumb sucking when you're a small baby or toddler won't damage your teeth long term, but Naik warns that changes if a child is still sucking their thumb after the adult teeth begin to form. She suggests making the break by age 4 is a good general marker for parents to protect those permanent chompers.

Have you weaned a thumb sucker? What are your best tips for other moms?

 

Images via © iStock.com/toos; iStock.com/jallfree

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