Soothing behaviour

Most children grow out of the behaviour between the ages of two and four, and it doesn’t cause them any problems at all. In fact, since thumb sucking can help babies feel secure and settle down for sleep, it can actually benefit them while they’re young.

Problems from thumb sucking

If your child continues to suck their thumb to the age when their adult teeth begin to arrive, it can become a problem. It’s possible for long-time thumb sucking to cause changes to the teeth and jaws, resulting in problems like an overbite (buck teeth), a gap between the upper and lower teeth, or a lisp.

With toddlers, thumb sucking is not usually a problem, and it’s likely your child will give up the habit by about four years of age. If your child reaches school age and is still sucking their thumb, they may soon stop – seeing that other kids don’t suck their thumbs often provides the motivation.

Helping your child stop

If your child continues thumb sucking once they’ve started school, they may need your encouragement to help them stop. Children of this age are old enough to understand that it can be bad for their teeth and can accept some responsibility for breaking the habit. They need to want to give up the habit to be successful at it.

  • Reminders are useful, as thumb sucking can be such a habit that your child might not even realise they’re doing it. You can give your child a glove to wear or a band-aid to put on their thumb.
  • Give lots of encouragement to your child and praise them when they have gone for a while with no thumb sucking. You might what to record their progress on a calendar with stickers or other rewards to work towards.
  • Don’t scold, criticise or embarrass your child in front of others, and don’t shame them into ‘growing up’ – this can lead to emotional issues.
  • Try and determine whether there are any triggers for your child’s thumb sucking behaviour and see if you can give your child something else to replace thumb sucking in that situation. For example, if they use thumb sucking to help them settle for sleep, let your child choose a new soft toy to cuddle at bedtime instead.
  • Like with all habits – for everyone at all stages of their life – thumb sucking can be difficult to give up. The main thing to remember is to be patient and work towards the goal one day at a time.