Tips for Thumbsuckers and Getting Rid of Dummies

Tips for thumbsuckers

Does your child suck? All four of mine had dummies at some point. It’s pretty common in fact. I got my kids to give up their dummies at different ages, besides one of my sons. He literally spat the dummy at 4 months old and wouldn’t have it anymore. 

Statistics vary, but as many as between 75% and 95% of children will suck their thumbs, with the numbers going up when you add those who suck dummies/pacifiers or their fingers or toes.

While some children will give up thumbsucking, finger sucking or their dummies in their own time, most will need to be encouraged to quit this habit. Here are some tips for thumbsuckers to help them give up.

Why is Sucking Bad for Kids?

As parents, we know that sucking is bad for our kids – this is why we want them to stop. But do you really know why it’s bad?

Sucking for long periods causes problems for the way the teeth grow in and the jaws shape, during a time when lots of growing and shaping is going on. 

They may cause for example an overbite where the top teeth are pushed out further than they should be, or an open bite, where the top and bottom teeth don’t join when the mouth is closed. Sucking may also cause a speech disorder such as a lisp because of the position the teeth are growing into.

Most children will stop by the time they turn four, and as their mouths are still developing at this time, most damage can right itself. If you can, you should ideally try to get them to stop by the time they turn four. When kids suck beyond the age of six it can become a problem for their teeth and their jaws that may require dental intervention.

tips for thumbsuckers

Why Do Kids Suck?

Often babies can be seen sucking their thumb in ultrasound pictures in the womb. They suck for nutritional reasons, as this is how they will get their food.

It’s a normal and natural reflex action that continues after they are born as a way to soothe and comfort themselves. It makes them feel secure and happy and helps them go to sleep.

Some experts recommend offering newborns a dummy to discourage them from sucking their thumb or fingers, as a dummy is easier to take away when it is time to quit.

Tips for Thumbsucking and Getting Rid of Dummies

A mother I know had three kids, and all three of them were chronic suckers – one chose a dummy, the second used her thumb and the third his middle two-fingers, in some sort of weird baby rocker salute. She had to try many different tactics, and in the end, what worked was different for each child, as was the age where each child managed to quit. 

The daughter with the dummy was the easiest in the end, and was able to be persuaded to give it up at around three years of age.

Her other daughter actively stopped thumbsucking at five because the dentist told her to, but then started again six months later when she had the flu, and continued again for years. Her son stopped sucking his fingers voluntarily when he started school.

Any parent of a sucker will tell you, getting them to quit can be challenging. Kids hang onto this habit like nothing else you’ve ever seen. There are many different things you can try, and if the first one works, brilliant, but most likely you will need to try ten (or 20) different methods before one finally seems to have a permanent effect.

I have heard of many parents getting their child to give the dummy to the Easter Bunny or to Santa.

Try to stay calm and be consistent and persistent with this – you will get there.

Here are some tips for thumbsuckers that may work:

Give lots of encouragement, praise and positive reinforcement when they remember not to suck, such as kind words and big hugs. Giving positive encouragement for not sucking has a better effect than scolding or nagging for continuing to suck.

Try keeping a chart noting with stickers each day they don’t suck, and have a bigger reward when they have completed a long enough period to quit the habit.

It helps to work out the trigger or reason for their habit and then work on addressing this instead. It may be because they are anxious, scared, bored, sad or frustrated (for example). You could look for alternatives to soothe them or remove their anxiety, or distract them with something else instead, such as a fidget toy or a teething necklace.

Another Tip for thumbsuckers is to try a thumb guard which is a rubber appliance that works by breaking the suction motion which removes the pleasure that the habit gives.

Use a bandaid on the thumb or fingers to remind them not to suck.

You can buy a solution from the pharmacist that tastes bad when painted on the nail, and will deter sucking.

You could get your dentist to talk to your child about why it’s important to give up – sometimes hearing it from someone else has a greater effect than words from a parent.

Tips for Thumbsuckers – Final Thoughts

Like many phases your kids will go through, it can seem never ending when you are in the middle of it. It may seem like your kid will never stop sucking, but eventually they all do (and most in well enough time to not cause expensive or permanent damage).

Be as patient and positive as you can with this – you will get there in the end. If our tips don’t help, you could also chat to your child health nurse, family doctor, pharmacist or dentist for advice.

Further Resources

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/thumb-sucking

https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/kids-oral-care/thumb-sucking-the-good-the-bad-and-the-normal

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