Breaking the Thumb Sucking Habit


Bad-tasting solutions that you can apply to your preschooler's thumb have a serious drawback. If your child rubs his eyes, the solution may sting or irritate them.

Some dentists insist that thumb sucking that continues beyond the age of four or so can damage the alignment of baby teeth. This can cause the adult teeth that replace them to be out of alignment, too. Yet others maintain that the need for orthodontia later in life has nothing to do with whether a child sucked his thumb when younger. So before you make a big deal about your child's thumb sucking, ask your dentist if it has started to affect the alignment of his teeth. If it hasn't, then there's no pressing need for your child to give up such a soothing habit.

If your child does suck his thumb, you know that he finds it comforting. When he's upset, it calms him; when he's hurt, it soothes him, when it's bedtime, it lulls him to sleep. Thumb sucking can continue to provide a sense of security, even for a preschooler. So gather more evidence from your doctor and think long and hard before deciding to wean your child from his thumb.

All children eventually stop sucking their thumbs regardless of what their parents do. However, if you decide that it's time for your child to get his thumb out of his mouth, start by explaining your reasoning to him. Your preschooler wants to be agreeable, wants to understand, and wants to be as grown up as he can. If your arguments fail to convince your child, ask your family dentist to talk to him. The dentist may wield more authority as a detached professional than you can as an involved parent. If your child still needs a little push to give up the habit:

  • Try restricting your child's thumb sucking to when he's in his own room. If that's the only place he can suck his thumb, your preschooler may willingly wean himself to spend more time with you and with his friends. (On the other hand, he may just lock himself in his room forever.)
  • Have your child wear mittens for a week or so. Your preschooler will find thumb sucking much less appealing if it leaves fuzz in his mouth.
  • Because your child will probably have the hardest time giving up thumb sucking at bedtime, have your child wear finger puppets or mittens to bed. Of course, he may want to put on a show before he settles down.
  • Put some "pixie dust" in each of your child's hands before bed. Then tell him if he holds on to it tightly until morning, it will turn into a surprise. After your child falls asleep, leave a small gift next to the bed so that he'll find it in the morning.
  • If all else fails, try applying a foul-tasting solution (available at most drugstores) on the thumb. Your child will probably not want to suck his thumb if it tastes horrible. On the other hand, he may actually develop a taste for it.

More on: Preschool


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too © 1997 by Keith M. Boyd, M.D., and Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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