9 Ways To Get Your Little One To Stop Sucking Their Thumb

Babies usually pick one of two oral-based self-soothing methods. One is using a pacifier, and the other is sucking their thumb. And while both habits are difficult to drop, I think thumb-sucking is damn-near impossible to get your kid to ditch. I mean, you can take away a pacifier, but their thumbs are forever. So it's no wonder so many desperate parents want o know how to get kids to stop sucking their thumbs. Thankfully, there are, in fact, more than a few ways you can convince your kid to ditch the phalange-sucking.

My son is nearing his fourth birthday, which is arguably the main reason why I'm currently worrying about his thumb-sucking habit. Ever since he was a baby, he’s always preferred his thumb over the pacifier. I tried different kinds of pacifiers, too, but they never stuck. And once my dear boy grew tired of that orange one we received from the hospital, he decided his thumb was better. And unless you know of some super secret newborn negotiating technique I'm unaware of, there was nothing I could do.

My partner and I thought it would be a short phase. In fact, we "hoped" it would be. But then our son reached his first birthday, and then his second, and then his third, sucking his sweet thumb along the way. While I don’t entirely hate that he sucks his thumb, it does bother me a tad. For one, rather than being vocal about being hungry or tired or bored, he’ll frequently just suck his thumb instead until you coax a response out of him. I’m also convinced he’s picking contracting a lot of germs this way. So with that in mind, and because there's never one way to parent a child or get them to ditch an arguably nasty habit, here are a few tips that will, hopefully, help your kid leave their thumb-sucking behind:

Talk To Your Kid About It

Don’t tell them it’s bad to suck their thumbs, and definitely avoid shaming them. That doesn’t really work for anything else, so why would it work for this? Instead, try to figure out why they’re doing it, and try to find replacement items they can hold or cuddle in lieu of sucking their thumbs.

Use Band-Aids

This was my first line of defense about a year ago. I kept putting Band-Aids on my son’s thumbs and it seemed like, for at least a little while, he was getting over his thumb thing. Then I got lazy and started forgetting to use Band-Aids on the regular. As a result, he started learning to take them off when I did manage to put them on. So, sure, in the end it wasn't a long-term solution, but I’m convinced it would have been if I had managed to be more consistent.

Foul-Tasting, Kid-Friendly Nail Polish

I’ve never tried this, but I’ve heard from several moms that there’s a specific anti-biting nail polish people put on their kid’s fingers. Apparently, it tastes awful. I’ve also heard, however, that some kids develop a taste for it, so this might also be something better done early and consistently.

Pick Up Some Chewelry

Rather than allowing their kids free-range to suck and/or chew on thumbs and fingers, many parents buy kid-safe chewelry (chew-friendly jewelry, like necklaces and bracelets) for kids to put in their mouths.

Purchase Replacements

If you find your kid is often sucking their thumb while they're in mixed company, or just before bed, try offering them a replacement item as these specific moments. It could be a new stuffy, a cozy blanket, or whatever makes them feel secure and distracted.

Develop A Reward System

Just like many parents use sticker charts and small bribes to get their kids to successfully use the potty, the same can be done for thumb-sucking. Whenever your child is caught not sucking, give them a sticker for good behavior. Before you know it, they'll get the idea.

Set Some Rules

Sometimes, setting reasonable boundaries is a great way to guide your child towards a specific behavior. So, in this instance, let your kid know there’s no thumb-sucking at the dinner table, but that they can do it for an hour afterward, in their room. Of course, you also need to be flexible, because some things (like pain) will probably cause your child to suck on a rogue thumb.

Use Educational Books & Videos

taught my son the alphabet, numbers, and colors (in English and Spanish, mind you) via the wonder of books. I showed him how to reduce separation anxiety with books, too. So, surely, books and videos about ending thumb-sucking could also help.

Have Their Dentist Chat With Them

For whatever reason, some kids are reluctant to believe their parents, but will surely listen to their care providers (read: strangers). The next time your kid goes to the dentist, ask your provider to give a small talk about the negative impact of thumb-sucking. Chances are, your kid will actually listen.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.