Stopping Thumb Sucking

Istock 5709748 Preschoolboy Suckingthumb

Few things are sweeter then the sight of a baby comforting himself with by sucking his thumb, but many parents struggle with breaking their child of the habit as they grow up. As babies grow and learn to crawl, dirt and germs from the floor make their way into little mouths, causing your baby to be ill more often. While seemingly harmless with an infant, the habit can be very difficult to break for an older child.

Most children grow out of sucking on fingers or their thumb on their own, but some need a little encouragement to stop. Most experts agree that until your child is 4, sucking his or her thumb should not really cause any serious threat. The longer the habit continues, the more likely it is that problems might develop. Such problems include speech delays, dental alignment issues, and self esteem problems.

Dr. Sharon Sullivan, a pediatrician from Arboretum Pediatrics, suggests to parents that her patients stop by age 3. She says, “There is no ‘right’ age. I usually recommend by age 3 and definitely before the permanent teeth begin erupting.”

Because habits can be difficult to break in young children, choose a time when your child will not have any other transitions in their lives to worry about. As with any training that you do with your child, it is important to communicate with them about why you want them to stop and praise them when they are not sucking their fingers or thumb.

Dr. Sullivan says, “The child has to be motivated to stop. That’s why it is difficult before age 3. There are also thumb guards available and as a last resort the pediatric dentists will place a ‘habit appliance’ in the child’s mouth to deter him/her.”

Eugene Zilber, Matthews resident, is the president of MEDetAL and inventor of a device called the Thumbgaurd (T-Guard). This FDA-approved product fits over a child’s thumb or fingers and secures with a wristband. The child can still put her thumb in her mouth, but the guard makes it impossible for her lips to create a seal around it.

Zilber created the T-Guard in 1990, to help his five year old son stop sucking his thumb and now with tens of thousands sold, he distributes his product worldwide. He says, “It feels amazing when people who have been skeptical about anything working order the T-Guard and then thirty days later, their child stops. When suddenly kids achieve the goal of stopping, their self esteem goes through the roof.”

For more information about this product, go to

Some ideas to try:

• Wear shirts with longer sleeves
• Set up a reward chart for not sucking
• Use one of the gross-tasting products that you can paint on their thumb
• Put gloves on your child before they go to sleep
• Use a device that covers the thumb or fingers.

Kelly Yale is a Charlotte Parent blogger, freelance writer and mother of two boys.