|

Expert Iconexpert advice MORE

Five-Year-Old Still Sucking Thumb

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Shari Nethersole, M.D.

Q: My daughter is five years old and she has sucked her thumb ever since I can remember. When she gets up in the morning, the thumb is still in her mouth. She does not suck it all day, unless she is lying down for a nap. I am concerned about what this is doing to her teeth and if I should try a stronger approach with her to stop other than just talking with her about it. Some mornings when she gets up, the thumb is just a wrinkly stump. I have asked my doctor, and he said that it was most likely a calming thing for her to help her sleep. But when is too old to suck your thumb?

A: Contrary to what most people think, in general it is not particularly harmful to a child's teeth to suck the thumb. As your physician suggested, sucking is a calming mechanism that many babies develop during infancy. Preschool children continue to use it as a comforting mechanism, particularly in preparation for sleep. Most children give up their thumb-sucking spontaneously at around age six or seven, usually due to peer pressure because they are in school. There are, however, some children who are like your daughter: they don't suck their thumb much during the day and just do it at night. Unfortunately, this also means that for her, sucking her thumb is how she has learned how to fall asleep, and in order for her to give this up she needs to learn a different way to fall asleep on her own.

In general, it is very difficult to get a child to stop sucking her thumb if she does not want to stop. If she is interested in stopping, then there are a number of things that you can do to help her with it. There are a few preparations that you can buy in the drugstore that are specifically made for thumb-sucking and nail-biting. You paint it on the thumb and it has a bitter taste, thus acting as a deterrent to sucking the thumb. Putting a mitten or other covering on the hand at bedtime may help. A sticker chart reward system would also be useful for a child this age: She gets a sticker on the calendar each night she falls asleep without the thumb in her mouth. When she accumulates three stickers she gets a special treat (an activity or a toy, not food); when she gets to six she gets another treat. When she gets to twelve she gets a final "big treat." By this point she will have learned how to fall asleep without sucking her thumb, and you can stop.

More on: Expert Advice

Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.


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.

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 Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks

highlights

Top 10 Group Halloween Costumes for Families
These store-bought and Pinterest-inspired Halloween costume ideas for groups are the perfect way to show off your creative side at your Halloween party or while trick-or-treating.

Kindergarten Readiness App Wins Gold
Our Kindergarten Readiness app won the Gold Award of Excellence in the educational category at the 2014 Communicator Awards. This valuable checklist comes with games and activities to help your child practice the essential skills she needs for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

12 Spine-Tingling Halloween Movies for Teens
Are you looking for a movie with just a little bit of spook-factor for your teen? Check out these 12 spine-tingling Halloween movies!

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!