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Many infants and young children use thumbsucking as a way of calming down, coping with anxiety, or going to bed. And generally, most children will stop on their own between the ages of 2 to 4. However, in some cases, children won’t be able to stop on their own. As your child approaches the ages of 5 and 6, there’s an increased concern that their prolonged thumb-sucking will lead to dental issues, social issues, and speech impediments.  

Finding ways to break the habit isn’t always easy and will require a lot of love, encouragement, motivation, and inspiration to help your child succeed in breaking the habit. Here’s how to stop thumb sucking.

Understand What Motivates Children

You can motivate your child by talking to them about how their favourite superhero doesn’t suck their thumb, and if they are excited about becoming a big boy or girl, you should discuss how that means they cannot suck their thumb. The goal is to find unique methods for your specific child by understanding what motivates them. It could be a trip to Disney, getting a new toy, going to school, or earning screen time. 

Most children aren’t going to care about the germs, dental issues, or what their smile is going to look like from prolonged thumb-sucking. They need instant gratification, which is why creating small goals for the big ones is super effective. 

Toddlers love stickers, which makes rewarding your child with a sticker chart to track their progress is so effective. Find stickers that are their favourite character and reward them with a sticker each day that they don’t suck their thumb. 

Recognise Their Triggers

Helping your child find ways to stay busy will allow them to achieve stickers daily. You can easily discover outside activities that will occupy their time. This could be playing puzzles, or games with each other, or doing crafts. 

Many kids will unconsciously suck their thumb when they are watching TV or playing on the iPad. It’s important that you do your best to limit the amount of screen time they have.  If they really enjoy being on the iPad, you can use it as a form of motivation where they earn it or take it away after so many times of putting their thumb in their mouth. 

When you notice your child putting their thumb in their mouth, you’ll want to gently remind them about their goal and help to redirect them with something they can do that will occupy their hands. Redirecting them with something positive will go much further than yelling at them.

Be conscious of the things that trigger your child’s thumb-sucking; not getting enough sleep or hunger are two common triggers. Do your best to avoid putting your child into these situations while you’re trying to break the habit. This also helps you to discover other triggers such as anxiety, anger, or sadness. If your child only sucks their thumb at night, you’ll need to find a different night-time routine to replace the thumb-sucking so they can fall asleep at night. 

Use Praise, Not Punishment

Offering constant praise, rewards and excitement will prove to be helpful to your child. They want to make you happy. So when they do not suck their thumb through an activity or time that they usually would, you should go crazy with excitement, tell them how proud you are of them and that they are closer to getting their ultimate goal. 

Small rewards are one of the best ways to motivate your child, and setting up a rewards system will prove to be successful. Take the time to discuss the rewards with your child, so you can find the ones that will motivate them the best. In the beginning, aim for short periods of time for them to earn rewards. Then over the next few weeks, set this for longer durations.

You should never shame or punish your child for thumb-sucking; not only will this lower their self-esteem, but it will also prolong your efforts as well. Keep in mind that this will be a long process, and you must provide empathy, encouragement, and consistency from start to finish. Remind yourself of how difficult it is for you to break your habits when you find yourself lacking patience with your child.