How to Get Kids to Stop Sucking Their Thumb: 11 Tips that Work

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How to Get Kids to Stop Sucking Their Thumb | Perfect for toddlers and older children, these thumb sucking alternatives and behavior strategies will teach you how to get your child to stop sucking his or her thumb (or fingers) once and for all! From reward charts and products that make it impossible for kids to get their thumbs in their mouths, to less invasive DIY gloves and solutions to help curb bad habits over time, these parenting tips work! #thumbsucking #parentingtips #positiveparenting

Your kids may have started it as an innocent habit, but it can be a tough one to break. Many parents are battling the same and wondering how to get kids to stop sucking their thumb right alongside you. Thankfully, there are many tips and tricks out there that have worked for hundreds of thousands of kids—there’s no reason they won’t work for your child as well! Here’s the ultimate guide on how to get kids to stop sucking their thumb.

Why Do Babies and Kids Suck Their Thumbs?

Why does thumb sucking start in the first place? Even from within the womb, babies have a natural sucking reflex, which can cause them to put their thumbs or fingers into their mouths—sometimes even before birth. In fact, if you are lucky you may even catch your little one doing it during a sonogram, which makes for a pretty cute photo!

The sucking reflex, coupled with the rooting reflex is what helps babies breastfeed, so they are crucial. Plus, thumb sucking makes babies feel secure and gives comfort. Therefore, some babies might eventually develop a habit of thumb sucking when they’re in need of soothing or drifting off to sleep.

While most people have no issue with a young baby sucking his or her thumb, it can be more worrisome in an older child, prompting parents to try and figure out how to get kids to stop sucking their thumb once and for all.

7 Thumb Sucking Alternatives

There are several alternatives you can offer your child if you are concerned about his or her thumb sucking. These tools can be incredibly helpful in the battle of how to get kids to stop sucking their thumb.

1) Offer a pacifier. Right from the start, an easy way to prevent thumb sucking is to offer your baby a pacifier like this one. While breaking a pacifier habit isn’t a cakewalk either, many parents find that it’s easier than thumb sucking because a pacifier can be physically removed, unlike a thumb.

2) Let them gnaw on a teething ring. Often babies will keep a thumb in their mouth just to have something to gnaw on and relieve pressure from erupting teeth. A teething ring or a teething toy is another great alternative if you’re trying to figure out how to get kids to stop sucking their thumb and suspect teething may be the cause.

3) Give them a stuffed animal. A child-safe stuffed animal is another great option to stop thumb sucking. It reduces stress and gives your toddler or child something to help self-soothe. Often, a child will hold onto a stuffed animal with both hands, and render their thumbs unavailable.

4) Employ stress-reducing activities. For older thumb suckers, the battle is more emotional than physical. In this case, parents will need to work on reducing stress and teaching healthy ways for children to self-soothe. This can be done with comforting and calming words, or by physically holding and cuddling your child.

5) Try sensory chew necklaces. Another option for older children who suck their thumbs to try is a sensory chew necklace. This can be chewed on or fidgeted with when they want to put something in their mouth, rather than a thumb.

6) Use bitter nail polish. Originally made to help children and adults alike stop biting their nails, bitter nail polish can be a helpful tool as well. If you prefer to go a more natural route, you can try putting vinegar on your child’s thumb and thumbnail instead—it will need to be reapplied more frequently though.

7) Use a physical barrier. If you are truly committed to learning how to get kids to stop sucking their thumb, make it impossible to do. A hand stopping product like this is specifically created to stop the thumb sucking habit by making it very difficult for a child to reach their thumb into their mouth. It may take a few weeks, but it is certainly an effective solution!

At What Age Should Kids Stop Sucking Their Thumbs?

As in most things with parenting, this decision will need to be made by you with input from your pediatrician. However, the general guidelines are to wait until the sucking reflex decreases between age 6 months to one year old.

According to the American Dental Association, thumb-sucking should be discontinued by age four. Prolonged sucking at this age can affect your child’s teeth, mouth and jaw, potentially permanently.  To prevent this, parents need to learn how to get kids to stop sucking their thumb and try different methods to encourage their child to do so.

In cases where thumb-sucking continues after age 5, it is generally considered to be in response to an emotional disruption in their lives, or another issue such as anxiety. Thumb sucking is an easy and convenient way for a child that has no other way to comfort themselves to self-soothe.

4 Ways to Stop Thumb Sucking

Trying to figure out how to get kids to stop sucking their thumb can feel overwhelming and frankly exhausting. However, these helpful ways to stop thumb sucking will go a long way, especially when coupled with time and patience.

1) Make a sticker chart. Kids love stickers! They are bright and fun and bring all the feel-good vibes. Make a sticker chart for your child to use where you can track days without thumb sucking. Let your child choose the stickers and add them to the chart when they have made it a day (or whatever other timeframes you set) without sucking. We’ve written an entire post about implementing sticker charts, which you can read HERE.

2) Have an honest talk. Older children may respond well to an open discussion about why thumb sucking is a bad habit to have. If they do not respond well to the talk, or if you need to bring in reinforcements, take them to a pediatric dentist who can offer some insight.

3) Use socks. This may sound a bit odd, but it is effective. If your child sucks during the night, it can seem like an impossible habit to break since they aren’t aware they’re doing it. If you really want to break the habit, tape socks around their hands to help prevent their thumb from reaching their mouth. This will help your child become more aware but may make for several bad nights of sleep for you both.

4) Keep busy. Children often suck their thumb when they are bored, so make sure to limit sedentary activities while you are trying to figure out how to get kids to stop sucking their thumb. You may also choose to go somewhere special which can provide a welcome distraction for everyone. Work to create an atmosphere where your child doesn’t feel bored and the need to suck their thumb. Take them bowling, organize a family game night – the possibilities are endless!

However you go about it, learning how to get kids to stop sucking their thumb is definitely doable! Don’t let yourself (or your child!) get discouraged—a few weeks of hard work is usually all it takes.

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How to Get Kids to Stop Sucking Their Thumb | Perfect for toddlers and older children, these thumb sucking alternatives and behavior strategies will teach you how to get your child to stop sucking his or her thumb (or fingers) once and for all! From reward charts and products that make it impossible for kids to get their thumbs in their mouths, to less invasive DIY gloves and solutions to help curb bad habits over time, these parenting tips work! #thumbsucking #parentingtips #positiveparenting

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Tania
Tania
Tania is a freelance writer and blogger. As a type 7 enneagram, she is known as the life of the party, but on her nights off, she can be found with a good book and a glass of champagne, spending time with her one-year-old daughter and husband at a local park, or working on her DIY blog, Run to Radiance.