How to Get your Child to Stop Sucking their Thumb

Updated on December 18, 2020

Thumb sucking begins as a natural habit for infants and toddlers to deal with teething, cope with their emotions, and to calm themselves when they are under distress. When your child doesn’t have their teeth in yet, there usually isn’t a problem. But if your child is still sucking their thumbs, it could lead to some problems with their teeth and mouths, public ridicule, and emotional development.

Physical Problems of Thumb Sucking

The main physical problems with thumb sucking include open bite and overbite malocclusion, which is when teeth are misaligned. An open bite is when both the top and bottom teeth are directed outwards, meaning that the front teeth don’t touch even when the mouth is closed. Overbite malocclusion is when only the upper teeth are misaligned. The top row of teeth cover the bottom, even when the mouth is closed. Overbites can impact the shape of both the smile and the face overall, which can lead to extensive orthodontic treatment to correct it.

There are also skin problems that are associated with thumb sucking. Moisture can irritate the skin, causing cracking and bleeding as well as making the child’s hands vulnerable to infection. Thumbs can become calloused and warp the thumbnail when they are sucked, causing peeling and ingrowth of the nail.

Furthermore, thumb sucking can cause a speech impediment. When the habit impacts the jaw and teeth, the habit can also negatively affect how the child speaks and eats. It can lead to a lisp and the inability to pronounce hard consonant sounds. Thumb sucking can result in speech problems that will require high-end speech therapy to correct the problems. Speech impediments, of course, make it difficult for children to communicate, which can lead to social and emotional problems.

Emotional Problems of Thumb Sucking

One of the first emotional problems that can be caused by thumb sucking is ridicule from peers. When your child sucks their thumb longer than their peers, the other kids may make fun of them. Not only does public ridicule lead to emotional problems, it can cause them to regress and continue sucking their thumbs.

Beyond ridicule, thumb sucking is one of early childhood’s first coping mechanisms. Thumb sucking calms infants and toddlers, gives them comfort, and provides a way for them to cope with their emotions. This is natural and good, but if it lasts longer than it should the child could have trouble learning new coping mechanisms that will help them later in life. It is so integral for childhood development to use new coping skills that will enable your child to get through life and use healthy emotional skills in adulthood.

Psychologists not only say that the children who don’t suck their thumbs gain emotional independence early on in life, excessive thumb sucking can be an early sign of addiction. It is vital to encourage your child to stop thumb sucking when it is no longer appropriate. Thumb sucking can either lead to problems in the future or become a symptom of stunted emotional development.

Getting them to Stop

If you have tried everything you can to get your child to stop sucking their thumbs, there are a few tactics to get them to stop. You can look into products that prohibit thumb sucking. Take a look at Dr. Finger, which blocks the thumb from being sucked. It provides a plastic substitute for them to suck on, which doesn’t necessarily impact the emotional aspects but can get them to stop because they don’t enjoy sucking on the plastic as much as they like sucking their thumbs.

You can also substitute a pacifier. While you should gradually get them to stop any emotional coping that will stunt the child’s growth, it is a good step to put something between their mouth and thumb. Most children won’t like it as much and will stop on their own. If they don’t stop, it may be worth it to take your child to get a psychological evaluation. Either way, it is important for your child to move beyond thumb sucking coping skills to learn how to cope with the world and develop into the future with strength and fortitude.

Ryan Beitler is a journalist, writer, and blogger who has written for Paste Magazine, The Slovenia Times, Deadline News, New Noise Magazine, and more.

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