Many children suck their thumbs and fingers. It’s a completely natural habit, which can be useful for babies and young toddlers to cope with life in general.

At a certain age, this tool of theirs becomes a problem. Most children stop sucking their thumbs and fingers between the ages of two and six. During this time, they develop other tools to help cope with anxiety, boredom, and other emotions.

This natural progression can often be too slow and the rest of their body continues to grow. The biggest problem with thumb sucking is that it can do serious damage to their teeth and mouth. Damage can start as early as two years old, but a child must be done before their permanent teeth emerge. A child may develop an abnormal dental bite, speech problems and can affect the roof of the mouth. Prolonged finger-sucking can also cause physical problems like chapped skin, calluses and fingernail infections.

What you can do

The first step to helping your child stop thumb sucking is controlling the habit. Here are some great tips to help your child shape and change their sucking habits:

Address their triggers.

“Our initial response when children do something that worries us is to try to stop the behavior, and that’s fine as a long-term goal,” says parenting educator Janis Keyser, co-author of Becoming the Parent You Want to Be. “But before you can do that, it’s essential that you deal with the underlying causes of the behavior and think about whether there’s stress in your child’s life that you need to address.”

If you have an idea about what might be triggering your child’s sucking – boredom, anxiety, taste, blankets, stuffed animals– make a special effort to talk about those triggers and what changes need to that could take place to control those triggers.

Don’t nag or punish.

Sucking habits tend to be unconscious.

If your child doesn’t even know they’re doing it, nagging and punishing are pretty useless strategies. Even adults have a terrible time breaking habits like this. If the thumb sucking really bothers you, set limits. “No thumb sucking at the dinner table” is as reasonable a rule as “no feeding the dog from your plate.”

Help your child when they want to stop.

If your child’s friends are teasing them, they may be ready to stop – and they’ll need your help.

First, talk to your child about the teasing and encourage them to tell you how it makes them feel. Reassure your child that you love them no matter what and help your child know they can stop.

Talk about breaking habits.

Begin a discussion with your child about what habits are and how it’s possible to break them.

Next, decide how involved you should be in his plan to quit. Does he want you to remind him when he lapses, or will that irritate him? The older kids are, the less parental involvement they usually prefer. A third party with expertise is a great way to go, like our trained Orofacial Myologists at Boise Speech and Hearing Clinic.

Help her become aware of the habit.

Encourage your child to become more aware of when and where she sucks. Agree on a quiet, secret reminder for times when she forgets – a light touch on the arm or a code word.

Some kids benefit from physical reminders that call their attention to the habit the moment they do it.

Offer an alternative.

Suggest a substitute activity or two. (Give Silly Putty to play with on long car rides, for instance, or a smooth stone to hold while reading.) Have your child practice the alternative habit for a few minutes before school or at bedtime.

Make sure your child has plenty of opportunities to run and play – outside, if possible – to burn off tension and nervous energy. Some kids find arts and crafts projects a good way to keep their hands busy and relax at the same time. For other kids, learning to play a musical instrument can be helpful.

We Can Help

To break a thumb and/or finger sucking habit, a professional may be needed, like our Certified Orofacial Myologists. At Boise Speech and Hearing Clinic we use positive behavioral techniques to help eliminate your child’s habit.

We understand that as a parent it is easy to become overwhelmed or frustrated by failed attempts at eliminating your child’s thumb and/or finger sucking habit. We offer a program with a 100% success rate.

Our Thumb Sucking Elimination Program is a 30-day program that works directly with your child using positive behavioral techniques. You and your child will come in for an initial evaluation of 1 hour and then one of our trained Orofacial Myologist will give you the tools and techniques you need for the next 30-days to eliminate the sucking habit. A follow-up visit of 30-minutes will be scheduled with you and your child. The entire program costs only $200. Some insurance companies will cover the cost of the evaluation and follow-up visit. Send us a message or call us to set up a time to chat and we can make a plan on how to help your child eliminate their sucking habit.

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