Many infants and children suck their thumbs. Some even start sucking their thumbs when they are still in the womb.
Thumb sucking can make children feel secure and happy. They may suck their thumbs when they are tired, hungry, bored, stressed, or when they are trying to calm down or fall asleep.
Do not be too concerned if your child sucks his thumb.
Do not punish or nag your child to make them stop. Most children stop sucking their thumb on their own, by the time they are 3 to 4 years old. They grow out of sucking their thumb and find other ways to comfort themselves.
Older children most often stop from peer pressure at school. But if your child feels pressured to stop, they may want to suck their thumb more. Understand that sucking their thumb is how your child calms and comforts themselves.
It is OK for children to suck their thumb until their adult teeth start coming in, at around age 6. Damage to the teeth or the roof of the mouth seems to happen more if a child sucks hard. If your child does this, try to help them stop sucking their thumb by age 4 to prevent damage.
If your child's thumb gets red and chapped, put cream or lotion on it.
Help your child stop thumb sucking.
Know that it is a hard habit to break. Start talking to your child about stopping when they are 5 or 6 years old and you know their adult teeth are coming in soon. Also, give help if thumb sucking embarrasses your child.
If you know when your child most often sucks their thumb, find other ways for your child to find comfort and feel secure.
- Offer a toy or a stuffed animal.
- Put your child down for a nap earlier when you notice they are getting sleepy.
- Help them talk out their frustrations instead of sucking on their thumb to calm down.
Give support to your child when they try to stop sucking their thumb.
Praise your child for not sucking their thumb.
Ask your child's dentist or health care provider to talk to your child about stopping and to explain the reasons to stop. Also, ask your child's providers about:
- Using a bandage or thumb guard to help your child.
- Using dental appliances if your child's teeth and mouth have been affected.
- Placing a bitter nail polish on the thumb nail. Be careful to use something that is safe for your child to consume.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Healthychildren.org website. Pacifiers and thumb sucking. www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/crying-colic/Pages/Pacifiers-and-Thumb-Sucking.aspx. Updated November 29, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2021.
Martin B, Baumhardt H, D'Alesio A, Woods K. Oral disorders. In: Zitelli BJ, McIntire SC, Nowalk AJ, eds. Zitelli and Davis' Atlas of Pediatric Physical Diagnosis. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 21.
Ryan CA, Walter HJ, DeMaso DR. Motor disorders and habits. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 37.
Review Date 8/10/2021
Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.