Getting five year-old to stop sucking thumb

How best can I encourage my 5 year old to stop sucking his thumb?

Question:

Dear Kay,

It is important for your son to first: 1) recognize his habit; 2) understand the problems associated with continued thumb sucking; and 3) realize the benefits of not sucking his thumb, before any "treatment" can begin. As you may have already experienced, this advice is usually great in theory but difficult to put into practice!

You might begin by discussing the consequences of thumb sucking with your son. It is usually helpful to allow your dentist to have this discussion with him, especially if your dentist has any photographs of open anterior bites or teeth which are malaligned as a result of this habit. Sometimes a talk between your son and his dentist will have a greater impact than if you spoke to your son from the familiar "parental role". The idea here is not to scare your son. It is simply meant to respectfully inform him in language that he can understand. If your son expresses no desire to quit sucking his thumb, consider placing a time limit for quitting. One example might be to tell him that when he is 6 years old, he will be a "big boy" and that big boys do not suck their thumbs anymore.

If he expresses the desire to quit but is having trouble doing it without help, there are several options to consider. Placing a bandage or taping some material to his thumb may help. Painting a non-toxic, bad-tasting substance on his thumb may help discourage thumb sucking. Some parents have told me they placed some type of bandage, such as an Ace bandage, around the elbow to prevent bending the elbow. If the elbow cannot be bent, the thumb cannot be placed in the mouth. I do not recommend this method because it is very restraining for the child. It is also easy to inadvertently wrap the bandage around the elbow too tight which decreases circulation to the arm. There are certain types of orthodontic appliances which prevent placement of the thumb in the mouth or prevent the ability to suck on the thumb. These appliances also help to realign the teeth, if necessary.

Please be aware that most children stop sucking their thumb(s) by about 4-5 years old. Sometimes peer pressure at school is all that is needed to spark their desire to quit. Generally, if the digital sucking habit desists by the age of about 8-10 years, any minor malalignments can be self-correcting.

Good luck with this project! I know that it can be exasperating at times

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