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How to Stop Thumb Sucking

Question

Our 4 1/2 year old still sucks his thumb when he's tired or bored. We call him out on it when we see it. I've looked online, but all the advice is pretty much 'feed and reward them', 'discuss it with them', etc...

Our dentist recommends he be done with sucking his thumb at age 4. We're not looking for a trick, but what advice might you have.

Thank you.

Answer

Thank you for your question. I understand your concern so here is some food for thought.

First of all, thumb sucking is simply a means of self comforting for children and not a sign of insecurity or some psychological problem. Many, many children suck their thumb and eventually leave that phase behind. Simply put, they'll stop when they're ready. Most stop around age 5 but a few may continue a bit longer. I had a friend who caught her daughter doing it from time to time even while in high school, although very discreetly in the privacy of her own room.

The truth is you can't make him stop, but you can help teach him to control it until he's ready to give it up. One way to do that is to designate a place where he CAN suck his thumb, for example his room. Tell him that from now on when he wants to suck his thumb he has to go to his room and close the door. There he can suck away to his heart's content. When he's done he can come out. If he is caught sucking his thumb anywhere else he will be sent to his room for 30 minutes (where he can read a book, etc.) and suck all he wants but must stay in there for the alotted time. This way you are giving him permission to do it within a clear boundary and if he breaks the rule, he gets confinement. You are also helping to teach HIM to control it. It may not cure the problem but it will confine it and teach him to be discreet.

One more important note: Set your ground rules, follow through, and whatever you do, don't make a big deal out of it. If you do, this problem is likely to get worse. Treat it as no big thing, but in light of the fact that he's becoming a big boy, he now has to learn not to do it in front of others. It would be nice if he stops before going to kindergarten, but even if he doesn't, peer pressure may then help your cause.

Stay calm and this too shall pass! Let us know how it goes.

Carmen Korsten
Certified Leadership Parenting Coach

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