Sucking fingers

My three-year-old daughter has sucked her fingers since she was a baby. Is there a way to make a child stop this behavior?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Thumb or finger sucking is strongest in children under six months of age. Up to 15 percent of children older than two years of age continue to suck their thumb. Most of these children give up the thumb or finger sucking habit by age four. Most of those who continue to suck their thumb after four years do so to assert their independence, especially if this issue is a hot one between parent in child.

Most of the time, this habit does not cause permanent damage except in two cases:

  1. Those who have permanent teeth erupting (usually around six years)
  2. Those who suck their thumb or finger in such a manner that it places outward stress on the teeth. This occurs most often when kids suck their fingers with the palm of the hand facing the ceiling.

If either of these is occurring, you should consult your physician or dentist.

It is normal for children under the age of four to suck their thumb or fingers. Thus, it will only buy you more trouble down the line if you apply pressure now to stop your daughter's finger sucking. Some suggestions for you to try in the meantime are to distract her if you notice that she tends to suck her fingers when she is bored. In addition, occasionally praise her for not sucking her fingers.

After the age of four, she will be able to reason with you about her finger sucking, if it is still present. There are techniques to employ at that time to help remind her about her finger sucking and give up the habit. However, a prerequisite to this is her having an attitude of wanting to give up the finger sucking.

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