From birth, children have a natural sucking reflex. This instinct is for babies to eat and to soothe themselves, and that sometimes includes sucking on their hands and fingers. It is not uncommon for babies to start sucking on their thumb when looking to soothe themselves. This habit is typically broken when babies are around seven months old, but sometimes children continue thumbsucking until the age of two or three.
Effects of thumbsucking and when to stop it
If a child sucks their thumb for too long, it can cause dental issues. This habit can affect how the teeth come in, how they align, and it can also affect the roof of the mouth. These issues cannot be easily fixed, costing you a lot of money down the road.
It’s important that your child stops sucking their thumb before their permanent teeth come in. While this age differs for many children, The American Academy of Pediatrics says treatment is usually limited to children who continue thumb sucking after turning five years old.
Tips for getting your child to stop sucking their thumb
It may seem challenging to break this habit, but Charlotte Pediatric Dentistry has tips to help.
- Identify triggers: take notice of the times that you child starts to suck their thumb - what caused them to do this? Were they tired? Scared or stressed? Once you determine what factors lead your child to suck their thumb, you are more prepared to help them stop.
- Don’t punish: if your child begins to suck their thumb, gently remind them not to, rather than yelling or scolding. Instead, use positive reinforcement. Reward your child with praise or benefits when they do not suck their thumb.
- Set goals: Encourage your child to go one hour without sucking their thumb before bedtime. Each day, add on another 30 minutes. Keep track of these accomplishments and reward with positive reinforcement.
Try not to stress about your child’s thumbsucking habit. Oftentimes, a parents stress is picked up on by children - which can trigger the thumbsucking. If you’re concerned about this habit, our local Charlotte pediatric dentists would be glad to sit down with your child and explain the effects of thumbsucking with them. Sometimes, talking with a professional can make more of an impact than talking with parents.