Q: Hello Dr. What should I do to stop my baby from sucking on his thumb? Please!
A: Interesting question!
Children suck their thumbs at an early age as a means of soothing themselves or coping with stress/anxiety or even when bored. Usually, this habit would stop between the ages of 2 to 4 years old. If it continues longer than that your baby’s teeth start to give way to accommodate the thumb leading to a situation where your baby’s upper teeth no longer align properly with the lower teeth. It can also lead to speech problems.
How do you stop a child from sucking his thumb? Hmm, I’m sure that lots of people can share a lot from their personal experiences eg tying up the thumb, putting terrible tasting stuff on it like vinegar, mustard, bitter leaf, nail polish etc. In some instances, these harsh methods get children to stop this habit but they probably latch on to another habit, like bed wetting. So, we do not advocate any of these.
What can you do as a parent? Well, if the child is not 6 years yet, ignoring the thumb sucking is an option. Don’t go into a big fuss and fight about it. He’s more likely to stop because some children teased him about it that the fact that you screamed about it.
Talk to him about why sucking his thumb is a bad idea. Talk to him about germs that he’s giving free access into his body etc and be sure to praise him when he’s not sucking his fingers/thumb. In fact, you could go as far as providing a reward to re-enforce this good behavior.
Remember that before the age of 6 years, we still believe that your baby will kick this habit all by himself. He usually does about the age of 4-5 years.
A personal example that may help…my son didn’t suck his thumb or fingers but he always bit his finger nails. I tried several times to get him to stop with no luck. Then, one day, when I got back from work, I told him a story…a true life story. Interestingly, the intent of telling the story was not necessarily because it was an opportunity to get him to stop biting his nails. I feel I had told him worse stories with no impact 😀 But, I had a particularly nauseating encounter at work that day. So, I told him about a colleague I had who always bit his nails. I told him this guy (my colleague) always had a heavy scent of saliva around him and anytime he came close to me, I would feel like throwing up. That particular day, we had to work together for a prolonged period of time and so, it was torture for me!
And that was it! I noticed a few weeks later that I had not seen him bite his nails for a while and asked him about it…praised him, more-like 😀 That was when he reminded me of the story that I had told him! That story for him…was the deal breaker! So, if your son is still a baby, he’ll probably kick this habit himself. If he’s a little more grown, find the right deal breaker 😀
Have a good night, everyone 😀
Here’s to a healthier you!