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Thumb Sucking And 5 Tips To Help Your Child Stop It

Thumb sucking is something every parent is acutely aware of – almost all children suck their thumbs at one time or another. In fact, it’s a completely natural phenomena that seems to be somewhat hardwired into an infant’s brain (babies have even been observed sucking thumbs in the womb.) 

But why sucking? Well, early in their lives, babies need to suck to feed, whether from a nipple or from a bottle. So we can see why sucking would be a natural habit to develop. Sucking is also very calming for infants, and is believed to be a way for babies to relieve stress and anxiety.

Let me give you a few numbers on thumb sucking (these statistics are amalgamated from a variety of sources):

  • About 95 percent of babies suck their thumb
  • About 10 percent will do so beyond the age of two to three
  • About five percent will do so beyond the ages of four and five
Numbers on adult thumb sucking are difficult to find, or even believe. This is because the habit is not something most people easily admit. But as a dentist, I know some adults still suck their thumbs.


Nagging your thumb sucker is no good for either of you. Instead, encourage her to realize how much she has grown and changed. Show her what she has left behind on her way to maturity. Point out that she no longer has use for diapers, bottles, or high chairs. Tell her how proud you are of that. Ask her what else she thinks she will give up. If she doesn’t say thumb sucking, then you should suggest it.


When you notice your child’s thumb in his mouth, try to distract him. Engage him in an activity that requires he use both hands. Be especially prepared before nap and bedtime. Have him hold the book you are reading or hug a stuffed animal with each arm.


When your child wants to give up thumb sucking, tell her about a habit you gave up and how hard it was. Then decide on a secret signal between the two of you. When she unconsciously slips her thumb in her mouth—and she will—you can use the secret signal to help her realize what she is doing. By using a secret signal, you replace what could be a shameful situation with fun.


Comments from your child’s pediatrician and dentist can work wonders. These authority figures have been a constant in his life. They can help him feel that he wants to stop sucking his thumb because he is growing up.


Friends are very important to this age group. Having a sleepover with friends who do not suck their thumbs can be very helpful. If your child sucks her thumb and her friends mention it, this might be the motivation she needs to stop.