Thumb Sucking, Part 2 - How to Kick the Habit?

After your child's fourth year of thumb sucking, it is time to help him kick the habit. Mighty Mommy has 4 simple tricks.

Mighty Mommy,
April 9, 2012

If your child has continued sucking his thumb into his fourth year, there are some actions you can take to help your child overcome the habit. I say “help him overcome the habit” because you really need to approach it in this fashion. If you jump in and try to force your child to stop, you may be met with resistance, rebellion, or some big sad eyes.

Your goal is to help him stop without making him feel bad about it. Also, you want to make him feel like you are helping him stop because he wants to, not because you want him to. Sounds tricky, right? It is. But you can do this. Here's how:

Step #1

Start by explaining that now that he's a big boy (or girl), he’s old enough to stop sucking his thumb. Ask him if he has any ideas for how you can help him quit the habit. If he doesn’t have anything to offer, you can suggest something like, “Maybe we could put something on your thumb to remind you; how about a Band-Aid?” If he goes for that, you can let him pick out some fun character Band-Aids at the store and help him put one over the tip of his thumb as a reminder.

Step #2

Some parents paint yucky-tasting stuff on fingers or fingernails as a prevention measure. If you do this, make sure you are using a safe product like just a drop of vinegar. Avoid spicy foods such as hot pepper sauce. You don’t want to punish the child for the behavior (or worse, get spicy pepper into his eyes!). You just want to bring attention to it.

Step #3

You can also set up a secret little signal for when he’s sucking his thumb and he doesn’t realize it. Tell him you’ll tug on your ear or touch your nose to let him know. You want to choose something that he’ll notice, but that will be somewhat discreet to others. That will help him save face in public. You don’t want to bring additional attention to the behavior. Plus, it’s always fun to have a secret signal!

Step #4

Finally, once you’ve convinced your child to make the change, continue to encourage and reward him when he’s successful. It may take a while to break the habit, but it can be done. When you see him slipping into the old habit of thumb sucking, instead of drawing attention to it, distract him. Hand him a toy or a book. Put something into his hand so that he can’t have his thumb in his mouth.

Remember, it’s a habit more than a behavior so you don’t want to punish your child for it. And it’s a habit that grows out of a natural instinct at birth. Don’t forget to mention that hands are often covered with germs and we absolutely don’t want dirty, germy hands in our mouth. Yuck!

Thumb Sucking image courtesy of Shutterstock