Thumbs, Fingers and Pacifier Habits

Are Thumb and Pacifier Habits Normal?

Thumb sucking is completely normal for infants and young children; many stop by age 2. It provides security and relaxation. Between the ages of 2 and 4, no harm is done to the teeth or jaws. Prolonged thumb sucking can create crooked teeth or bite problems. Children should cease thumb sucking prior to the eruption of their permanent teeth. Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb sucking. They can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs If you have concerns about a thumb or pacifier habit consult your child’s dentist.

A Few Suggestions To Help Your Child Get Through Thumb Sucking:

  • Instead of scolding children for thumb sucking, praise them when they are not.
  • Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking.
  • Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when their parents provide comfort.
  • Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents.
  • The doctor or staff can help encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue.

If these approaches don’t work, remind the children of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. Your child’s dentist may recommend the use of a mouth appliance.

For further information on this effective technique, please see How to Help Stop Digit Sucking Habit.

How To Help Your Child Stop Sucking Their Finger or Thumb

This is a three week long program. POSITIVE reinforcement is necessary. If your child is not doing well, drop the program and try again 3-6 months later. Don’t “bug” your child about finger/thumb sucking. Only reinforce the times when they DON’T suck their finger or thumb. For instance, praise them if they DON’T suck their thumb while watching TV, or when they get upset. This changes habits much faster than repeating “take that thumb out of your mouth”.

How It Works

Your child places a band aid on their thumb or finger every day as a “reminder” to not suck. He/She must keep the band aid on throughout the day to receive a sticker that evening. Before bed, place a sock on his/her hand and hold it in place with masking tape or a safety pin. In the morning he/she will get another sticker if they kept the sock on all night. Have your child place their stickers on a calendar to keep track of the days they are following the program.

At the end of the first week if they are being successful, they get some reward or prize from you. The same goes for the second week of the program. Plan a fun activity or surprise if they are successful.

At the end of the third week they should have 21 days of stickers on their calendar. At this time, they are to receive a prize of great importance that they already know about and that you have agreed to. Make this significant because the alternatives to this program (appliances/braces) are not cheap. Your child should put a picture or some reminder of this prize on their calendar to remind them what all those stickers are for.

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