|

Expert Iconexpert advice MORE

Eight-Year-Old Sucks Thumb

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: I have an eight-year-old boy that will not stop sucking his finger. This has ruined his teeth. What should I do?

A: Some thumb sucking is common with a third or more of preschool children and an even smaller percentage of early elementary-aged children. It is more prevalent in children of higher socioeconomic status. Some believe that thumb sucking is a means of comfort, helping to relieve stress or calm a child.

Thumb sucking becomes a problem at any age when it interferes with normal developmental achievement and social interactions. It is often viewed as immature and socially undesirable which may affect their relationships with others. A child who sucks his thumb may be ridiculed or teased, which can negatively impact his self-esteem. As you point out, dental problems are the most common adverse consequence of thumb sucking, particularly among children who suck persistently day and night.

Primary goals of treatment are to prevent dental complications and maintain your child's self-confidence. A child should be involved and interested in stopping. Parents need to remain patient and understanding, offering emotional support without criticism. If your child's teeth are already "ruined," I would definitely recommend contacting a pediatric dentist to evaluate his teeth and to see if an intra-oral appliance to interfere with the thumb placement would be helpful.

You could also give simple reminders, rewards, and frequent praise when your child is not thumb sucking. Try to change this habit from a pleasurable experience. Gloves or socks on the hand overnight can serve as reminders. A bitter tasting substance, available over-the-counter, can also be applied each time a child is noticed to be thumb sucking. If these behavior modification and positive reinforcement techniques aren't working, his pediatrician may have other suggestions.

More on: Expert Advice

Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

highlights

8 Quick Tips for Curbing Your Family's Screen Time
Setting limits on screen time — and remembering to put down our own devices — is one of the biggest parenting challenges of our time. Use this guide to create healthy screen-time rules for your whole family.

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books!
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our new Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme, and create reading lists for kids!

10 Best Beach-Themed Crafts and Activities
Sand, seashells, and stones can provide hours of family fun. Check out the greatest beach-related activities and crafts for toddlers on up.

Registered for Kindergarten — Now What?
Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks