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Thumb sucking

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 him 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, he may want to suck his thumb more. Understand that sucking his thumb is how your child calms and comforts himself.

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 him stop sucking his 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 he is 5 or 6 years old and you know his adult teeth are coming in soon. Also, give help if thumb sucking embarrasses your child.

If you know when your child most often sucks his 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 he is getting sleepy.
  • Help him talk out his frustrations instead of sucking on his thumb to calm down.

Give support to your child when he tries to stop sucking his thumb.

Praise your child for not sucking his 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 medication on the thumb. Be careful to use something that is safe for your child to consume.

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking. Healthychildren.org. Available at: www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/crying-colic/Pages/Pacifiers-and-Thumb-Sucking.aspx. Accessed August 17, 2015.

Review Date 7/10/2015

Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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