When will my child give up thumb-sucking?

As children get older, it gets harder to accept some of their habits. Thumb-sucking in particular bothers many parents who find it embarrassing and frustrating. While they tolerate thumb-sucking in a preschooler, they believe it’s inappropriate for an older child.

A six-year-old who sucks his thumb probably does so less often than he once did. This is partly because he’s now occupied with school, afterschool activities, and friends. Most children these ages are inclined to suck their thumbs in private or when they’re with family members.

Even though thumb-sucking decreases with age, most parents want their child to give up the habit completely. Parents may argue with their child over thumb-sucking and end up in angry confrontations and power struggles. Some parents back off for a while and others give up in anger, at a loss for what to do.

There are a number of reasons a six- or seven-year-old (or one who’s even older) sucks his thumb. It may be a well-established habit he hasn’t felt pressured to break, or he may not be emotionally ready to stop. He may suck his thumb at night to help himself fall asleep. If he feels insecure at school he may seek comfort through thumb-sucking, or he may do it when he faces family situations he can’t control such as sibling rivalry, divorce, or constant tension.

Sometimes a six- or seven-year-old gives up thumb-sucking in response to teasing and peer pressure: “Ooh, you still suck your thumb. That’s for babies! I stopped sucking my thumb when I was four!” However, a child with a strong thumb-sucking habit may not respond at all to negative comments or care if other people watch him.

To help your child give up thumb-sucking, first talk to him about it. Pick a time when you’re both calm and tell him your feelings and ideas. Acknowledge his desire to keep sucking his thumb but let him know how much you want him to stop. You can ask for his suggestions: “How can we help you give up this habit?” Remember that while thumb-sucking is a problem for you, it may not seem like one to him.

You can suggest that your child wear a bandage on his thumb to remind him not to suck, or you can gently signal him when he puts his thumb in his mouth. This is more effective than abruptly pulling on his hand or angrily saying, “Take your thumb out of your mouth!”

Try distractions that occupy his hands – playing with clay or helping in the kitchen. You might want to work out an agreement. If he stops sucking his thumb, he gets a reward. One family kept a daily chart for their daughter, and after a week of checkmarks for not sucking her thumb, she got a special game.

Ask trusted friends for suggestions. And if one technique doesn’t work, try another. One family bought their child a fancy glove to keep her thumb covered. Some parents paint a foul-tasting liquid on their child’s thumb, or have the dentist place a special tooth guard in their child’s mouth. Don’t try either method without getting your child’s permission. You should never force such methods.

As you help your child give up his habit, create an atmosphere of respect in your home and try to keep him from feeling humiliated or embarrassed because of his thumb sucking. Then don’t let your other children make fun of him. If he seems particularly anxious, he may be feeling too pressured. You might want to slow down your attempts to eliminate his habit, or hold off for a few weeks.

Throughout this process, give lots of positive feedback; “You’re really trying hard. I appreciate what you’re doing.” Don’t be surprised if steps forward are followed by steps backward. It’s not easy for him to give up thumb-sucking, especially if the initiative is yours and not his.

Picture Credit : Google