Sucking on a thumb, finger or pacifier is a natural reflex for babies and young children. It may soothe and relax them, or provide a sense of security. Most children naturally stop the habit on their own, some need a little help.
How to stop a pacifier habit?
While pacifier sucking can also cause the same problems as a thumb or finger, it is usually an easier habit to break. You can throw away a pacifier, the thumb, not so much.
Suggestions for stopping a pacifier habit are: a visit from the pacifier fairy, giving the pacifiers to someone with a new baby or bringing them into our office to put in the “binky bank”. What all of these choices have in common is going cold turkey. When you are ready to do it, go for it and don’t look back.
When should I be concerned about thumb or finger sucking?
Over time this habit may cause long term dental issues, from misaligned teeth to changing how the teeth bite together (by opening the bite in the front and narrowing the dental arches in the back), which can even change jaw growth.
The good news is that once the habit is stopped, forces from the muscles of the lip and tongue can guide the baby teeth back into their natural positions. In order to have enough time for this to happen, children should be actively encouraged to stop around age three.
What can parents do to help stop a thumb or finger habit?
Suggestions for daytime:
- Keep it positive. It is difficult for a grown up to break a habit, and hard for a child too. Patience and understanding with positive praise when your child is not sucking is best.
- Try to determine the underlying cause is and address that as children tend to suck their thumbs when they are feeling insecure or bored.
- Reading books, such as David Decides, Berenstain Bears and the Bad Habit or Thumb Love may help. These may be available at the library or Dr. Mann is happy to lend you one of her copies.
- A reward calendar where the child can track days they have avoided thumb sucking with marks or stickers. Agree on a motivating reward ahead of time and after 30 consecutive days, enjoy the reward. If the program isn’t succeeding after 2-3 months, tell your child that it seems as though you haven’t started at the best time for change and that you are stopping temporarily. Tell your child that the program will be started again on date that the child will recognize, like Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving.
- Reminder finger polish, like Mavala, available at Amazon.com, has a bitter taste which serves as a reminder not to place fingers or thumb in the mouth. Mavala is applied regularly 2-3 times a day on the nail and surrounding skin. This helps the child to become aware of their habit to help them to stop.
- Dr. Mann and her team can encourage your child to stop sucking and explain why it is important to stop the habit too.
Suggestions for nighttime:
- Try placing a band aid on the favorite finger or a sock or mitten gently taped at the base of the favored hand or an ace bandage gently wrapped around an elbow (which prevents the arm from bending at the elbow to get a thumb in). These can be tracked on a reward calendar for each night the child is able to keep it on and dry.
- For something that cannot be removed, the ThumbGuard or FingerGuard are clear plastic cones with a hospital bracelet that a parent must cut with a scissor to remove in the morning.
These suggestions are usually enough to successfully stop the habit. If it is not enough, Dr. Mann can help with other strategies, such as fabricating a habit appliance.