top of page

Giving up the Thumb

Solving thumb sucking in a few easy steps

Its happened. Your child has discovered that sucking their thumb is even better than their favorite stuffed cat or paw patrol blanket, when it comes to comfort. They suck their thumb while falling asleep, while watching TV, when they're scared or when they're upset. And maybe up until now it hasn't been an issue, as they would only use it for a few minutes at a time to soothe them-self, but now you’re thinking it's time to try to cut this habit out.

While it’s perfectly reasonable to want your child to stop, it might be good to know that some of the perceived dangers of thumb sucking might not be based on fact. Here are some common misconceptions:

The myths

1. My kid will still be sucking his thumb when he’s 12!

Not likely. Statistics show that less than 9% of children who suck their thumbs still continue over the age of 5, with the vast majority breaking the habit between the ages of 2 and 4. And of those kids still sucking their thumbs at 5, most will stop as they start to identify with their peer groups and don’t want to be the only one in kindergarten with their thumb in their mouth at story time. Plus with the amount of hand-sanitizer we use today, the taste alone will probably turn them off pretty quick!

2. It will ruin her teeth

This can be true, but only after the kids get their permanent teeth, which will start to happen between 6 and 8. In older kids, chronic thumb sucking can start to change the shape of the oral cavity. But luckily, the vast majority of kids will have stopped on their own by then anyway. If you are concerned, bring this up at their next dentist appointment and get a professional opinion on the matter.

3. Using it as a crutch

While it’s true that young children who discover their thumbs do use it for comfort, this doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be able to learn coping mechanisms for dealing with stress or self-soothing later in life.

4. A pacifier is better

Lots of parents tell me they would rather their child use a soother, because at least they can take the soother away. But in my experience lots of parents say this and then don't actually take it away! If the soother is their child's sleep prop, and they use it for comfort, then it becomes just as difficult to take away from the child. Lots of parents let soother-use linger on way longer than they planned too. I had one client who confessed that she still let her 5-year-old sleep with his soother because of this very reason.

So with these common fears out of the way, there really is no right or wrong, only a personal preference of the parent’s. Just like some mothers use bottles and others breastfeed, or some parents use time-outs and others don’t, there are many different ways of doing things. If you’ve decided that thumb sucking needs to go, here are some ways to help your child give it up for good. These tips are designed for kids 3 years and up.