When Should My Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb?

When Should My Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb?

Babies and young children use thumb-sucking as a way to soothe themselves.  Some babies start sucking their thumbs before they are even born.  Babies may use thumb-sucking or finger-sucking as a coping mechanism when they are tired, hungry, or stressed.  As the child grows older and their speech develops, they find other ways to soothe themselves and naturally stop sucking their thumb.  In some children, thumb-sucking becomes a habit that can be difficult to control and may require intervention by their parents.

At what Age Should My Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb?

Most children stop sucking their thumb on their own between two and four years of age.  Children who continue beyond four or five years of age may need a little help stopping the habit.  Children who aggressively such their thumb are more at risk of long-term problems than children who gently rest their thumb in their mouth.  Children need to stop sucking their thumb or pacifier by the time their adult teeth start coming through, which is around six years of age.

What Are The Effects Of Thumb Sucking?

Some of the long-term effects of thumb sucking beyond five or six years of age include:

  • The teeth and jaws may not be properly aligned.  This is called malocclusion.  The thumb puts pressure on the roof of the mouth, which can cause the upper jaw to become v-shaped.  The force of the thumb on the upper incisors can cause them to protrude, causing the child to have an open bite.  An open edge is when the upper and lower front teeth don’t meet when the child closes their mouth.  Treatment by an orthodontist may be required.
  • Crowded teeth.  As thumb sucking can alter the shape of the jaws and put pressure on the permanent teeth as they erupt, the teeth may become blocked.
  • Speech problems.  Children may develop speech problems, such as a lisp, from thumb or finger sucking.  Treatment by a speech therapist may be necessary for some children.
  • Low self-esteem.  Children are often picked on for their thumb-sicking habits, which can have a long-term effect on their self-esteem.  Children can become embarrassed by their thumb-sucking practice and may need help from their parents to stop.

How Can I Stop My Child From Sucking Their Thumb?

  • Gently remind your child not to suck their thumb.  Often children don’t realize they are doing it and must be reminded to stop.  Positive reinforcement is usually the most effective way of helping your child stop thumb-sucking.  Don’t criticize or embarrass your child about their thumb-sucking habit.  Instead, offer a reward to your child for not sucking their thumb.  Have a calendar on the wall and add stickers when your child hasn’t sucked their thumb.  After a certain number of days, reward your child with a memorable trip somewhere or a new toy.
  • Offer a distraction when your child is sucking their thumb.  Some children only suck their thumbs at certain times.  Take note of when your child sucks their thumb.  If they only do it when going to sleep, give them a stuffed toy to squeeze instead.  If your child tends to suck their thumb when stressed, provide them with a cuddle instead.  Offering an alternative to sucking their thumb may help them stop the habit.
  • Book an appointment with the dentist.  A dentist can assess whether thumb sucking is causing any damage to your child’s teeth.  Chatting with a friendly family dentist about why it’s important to stop sucking their thumb may be an effective way to get your child to stop.
  • Put Band-Aids on your child’s thumbs.  Band-Aids or gloves on your child’s hands can remind them not to suck their thumb.
  • Ignore their thumb-sucking.  Simply ignoring their thumb-sucking is enough for some children to stop doing it, which is effective for children who are using thumb-sucking to get attention.


To avoid any long-term effects from thumb sucking, children need to stop this habit before their adult teeth come through.  This helps to prevent future problems such as crooked teeth, open bites, and speech problems.  Helping your child stop sucking their thumb takes patience, but it is well worth the time and dedication to helping your child avoid long-term problems.

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