Thumb sucking; time to break the habit

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thumbsucker, thumb sucking, suck thumb, toddler, baby, child, adult
A scene from the film Thumbsucker. I certainly hope my kids don’t suck their thumbs s teenagers or adults!

Toddler Adams is a very enthusiastic thumb sucker. Her older sister, Helen, had the same habit. They follow in my foot steps as I sucked my thumb when I was small.

With Toddler Adams nearing her third birthday, we’re making plans to wean her off the thumb. She’s got a few months of respite, but it will happen in the very near future. It’s rather like giving your child inoculations. I’m not looking forward to it, but it has to be done.

I can’t help feeling it’s like taking a favourite toy away from your little one. You know, the one special, cuddly toy that has to go with them everywhere and has to be tucked up in bed with them at night.

I know taking such action divides opinion, but Mrs Adams and I feel it’s better to get on top of this to stop further problems later on. Even though we persuaded Helen to give up, she has a slight lisp and it’s very easy to see it’s down to the way her milk teeth were shaped by her thumb sucking habit. That, to me, is all the evidence I need to be convinced we’re doing the correct thing.

In Helen’s case, we didn’t give it too much thought until the dentist suggested we should get her to stop at the age of three. He explained her teeth were slightly out of shape as a result of her using her thumb as a comforter. This, he said, wasn’t such an issue. If we didn’t get her to stop at that point, however, there was a chance her jaw might change shape and that would require orthodontic work in later life to correct.

As I say, Helen was three years old at the time. Reception class was on the horizon and I had visions of her getting grief in the playground if she was still a keen thumb sucker when she started school.

By chance, when we decided the time was right to get Helen to stop, my wife and I were at a party. A child psychologist we know was there so we asked her advice. She gave us a few pointers. The main one was to ensure there were consequences if Helen was caught sucking her thumb. If she was watching cartoons, for instance, the TV was to be switched off if we found her with her thumb in her mouth.

We were advised to expect a week of turmoil but this should be enough to break the habit. Gill and I weren’t convinced, but it worked. Oh, to be clear, there was a week of turmoil but it could have been a lot, lot worse.

We’re now gearing up to do the same with Toddler Adams. She has a hotter temper than her older sister. Something tells me it’s not going to be quite so easy. Wish us luck!

How did you get your child to stop sucking their thumb? Maybe you have a child in their teens who still does it? Maybe you’re an adult thumb sucker? Do you wish you could stop?

And then the fun began...

13 thoughts on “Thumb sucking; time to break the habit”

  1. Interestingly we did similar. Any time I saw dd start to suck her thumb I’d say “oh are you sleepy? Nap time then” and take her to her room, she quickly realised she was missing out and gradually moved to only at bedtime then eventually not at all.

    1. It’s tough isn’t it? You don’t want to have to enforce this on your kids but it is for their own good. I like your approach though, I can see it working well with Toddler Adams. I may borrow this idea!

  2. Fab tips from your psychologist thumb, think this applies to all behaviours we want to stop, I offer endless empty threats and need to take action. Neither of mine were thumb suckers

    1. You’re quite right, this approach can be applied to most situations. Following through is vital. It certainly worked when getting Helen to stop sucking her thumb.

  3. I never knew kids had to give up at such a young age! It seems quite sad, but I guess they’re made to give up dummies about their age. None of my kids sucked their thumbs, which actually made me quite sad as my brother and sister did it as kids – my sister well into her teens – and I sucked my fingers. I gave up when I was 10, but was never any pressure to give up. To this day, I sleep with that hand by my mouth and still won’t put my ‘sucky’ fingers on anything dirty!

    1. I used to suck my fingers too, but don’t remember doing it once I started school. By that stage I’d moved onto biting finger nails, which I still do now. Yuck.

    2. Wow, so the urge is still there Sarah? Interesting. You see I’m a reformed (heavy, 40 a day) smoker. Be it a pen, mobile phone or keys, I can often be found with a cigarette substitute in the fingers of my right hand.

  4. N was a thumb sucker. I kind of wished (even though I hate them) that he had a dummy because then you can take them away. Removing a thumb’s a bit harder.

    Our dentist gave him a warning at a similar age – maybe 3.5 years. I kept reminding him of this and saying that he’d need to give it up by the next dentist visit. Thankfully he only sucked it while falling asleep, and if cuddling a soft toy when tired watching tv. A lot of the time before bed he wasn’t sucking, it was just thumb in his mouth at that stage, so his teeth weren’t being impacted.

    I wanted him to stop by school, but to be honest, I haven’t even noticed him stopping. He’s just done it himself at 4. I’ve not seen him do it for a long time, so presuming he stopped by the summer just gone. I think it was a mix of growing up, being outside and busy a lot more in the summer, and not using his teddies or taggy blanket so much to cuddle up to. Instead he’s using them to look after, role play and treat as friends rather than tired/comfort.

    Hopefully your attempt isn’t too painful.

    1. Ah, now dummies are an interesting one. Helen had one but at six months, completely lost interest. As for Toddler Adams, she always sucked her thumb and never wanted one. In fact I took a good hard look at Toddler Adams’ teeth yesterday and they’re already slightly out of shape thanks to her thumb sucking.

      Anyway, interesting to note N just naturally gave up. I think our toddler is more hooked on the habit than her big sister. Much as I’d love to leave her to it and hope it stops naturally, I think we’re going to have to intervene.

  5. Really interesting post John, Monkey is a thumb sucker but he only does it at night and even then not all the time so I have often wondered how to break the habit. I’ve hoped it would stop naturally but then I have a friend who says she suxked her thumb well into her teens! Good luck breaking the habit! Xx #thetruthabout

  6. I’ve got a very good friend from childhood who sucked her thumb well into adulthood – any time she was tired I guess. I’m not sure if she still does it now in her forties – she has three children of her own! To be fair I’ve never noticed anything wrong with her teeth and I don’t remember her ever having orthodontal work but I could be wrong… my 11 year old step daughter still does it too. I’ve never heard of anyone trying to wean a child off the thumb habit but then I’ve got two dummy lovers and I’m not hugely worried about their teeth but more about developing language. I know it is time to wean the 3 year old off during the day – I think night time is different. Thanks for linking John – this has given me the incentive to make some changes!! #thetruthabout

  7. What an interesting post, and best of luck stopping this habit. I’ve never had an issue with thumb sucking, however, I am interested in what your child psychologist says about childhood habits – instead of sucking his thumb Little Mister puts his finger up his nose when he’s tired. It’s his comfort, which is rather odd, but hey, each to their own. I’m aware this may be happening at school now so it really does need to stop. I may try your tip & endure an awful week of weaning off the habit,

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