Thumb sucking and pacifier use is a common concern for many parents with young children. Parents often question if the habit is harmful, what age should it stop or what can happen if the child doesn’t stop.
Thumb sucking is one of an infant’s natural reflexes that often begin in the womb. This reflex can help make them feel secure and happy, and can also help them fall asleep. Placing a thumb, another finger or a pacifier in the mouth can provide a sense of security during stressful and anxious periods for children.
Although this is a natural behavior, prolonged thumb sucking or pacifier use causes problems with the proper growth of the mouth and the alignment of the teeth. The image below is an example of what can happen with prolonged aggressive thumb sucking or pacifier use.
Most children stop sucking their thumbs or pacifiers between ages 2 – 3. If a child does not stop on their own, parents should discourage the habit after the child is fully potty-trained. The reason to wait until that time is because excessive pressure with many habits changing can do more harm than good and can overwhelm your child. As a parent, you should focus on one thing at a time. This will make for a more successful outcome, and a less stressful situation for both child and parent.
Here are some helpful tips to stop the habit:
- Instead of scolding your child for thumb sucking, give praise when they don’t.
- Create a reward system with your child and keep a calendar tracking their progress. Making a goal helps them stay motivated to stop.
- Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and comfort the child.
Our team at CDG can also help encourage your child to stop sucking their thumb or pacifier and explain what can happen to the teeth if the habit continues. If the habit still continues after these approaches, we often advise parents to try reminding the child to not suck their thumb by placing a bandage on their thumb or sock over their hand at night. With pacifiers, you can either take it away or ease them off of the habit by cutting the end of the pacifier off so it makes the sucking motion less gratifying.
If after trying all of these suggestions and the habit continues, other methods may need to be taken. Such as an appliance or a clear polish on the thumb to cause it to taste very bitter.
Of course here at CDG we are available to answer any questions or concerns you may have about your child and are willing to make suggestions that will fit your child best. Feel free to contact our office at any time.