Most babies suck their thumb at some point. It’s a great way to self-soothe and helps babies feel calm and fall asleep.

Because most babies do it, it’s not usually something to worry about. Some babies might even suck on other fingers as well or instead of their thumb. But when thumbsucking has gone on for too long, it can cause issues with speech development and changes in mouth and jaw shape, although there should be no permanent problems if the habit stops before 5 years of age.

Usually, babies grow out of thumbsucking around 3 years old but when they keep doing it past that age, it’s not always easy to get them to stop. So, when it’s time to wean your baby off of that thumb, what do you do? In this article, we will review eight ideas that you can use to help your baby stop thumbsucking in a positive and effective way.

  1. Talk to them about it! Tell your child why thumbsucking is not good for them and help them understand that you want to help. Besides, being a great opportunity to foster honest communication with your little one, this will give them motivation and a goal to work toward with your help. In your conversation, you can mention:
    1. Their teeth might move forward and they could need braces when they’re older.
    2. Germs are everywhere, especially their hands, and they may get sick if they’re always putting their fingers in their mouth.
    3. Talking might be harder for your baby if they suck their thumb because their mouth has to work harder to learn to make words.
  2. Find the times when thumbsucking occurs: Kids tend to suck their thumb or fingers during calm, relaxing times such as bedtime or while watching a movie. Identify these times and have other activities ready for them to do instead.                                                                                                      
  3. Help them work on self-awareness: Thumbsucking can become such a natural part of a child’s habits that they might not even notice when they’re doing it. Always do it in a positive, non-threatening way so that they don’t feel attacked. The best thing is to ask them questions like “do you know where your thumb is?” or “what are you doing right now?” to help them understand what it feels like to be mindful of their thumbsucking. When your child does notice, help them think of something else to do instead.
  4. Help them find a replacement: This is the most important part: working together with your little one to figure out what they can do to soothe without resorting to thumbsucking. Common ideas include stress balls, a favorite blanket, coloring pages, listening to music, using a “fidget” to keep their hands occupied, or anything else you can think of! You know your child the best, so go with your gut and talk to them about what they would like to do. Chewelry is a good example. This is jewelry that is usually made of rubber or another soft material that is made for chewing. It offers a direct alternative to a finger or thumb and can later be easier to stop. You may opt for this option as an alternative behavior for your little one.
  5. Distract them: When you see your child going for the thumb or fingers, encourage them to do one of their alternative activities. This is why it’s good to have fidgets or stress balls handy at all times so that you can offer them whenever you see the thumbsucking about to begin. This can be an effective reminder that putting their fingers in their mouth is not a good idea, and prompt them to look for alternatives. 
  6. Praise them for not doing it! Positive reinforcement of desired behaviors is the best way to increase wanted behaviors and decrease unwanted behaviors (thumbsucking!). Make sure to consistently praise your child whenever you see them with their fingers out of their mouth, especially during their most common times. Make certain that your praise is specific to what they’re doing and why you’re saying it. For example: “I am so proud of the way you’re watching TV with your hands out of your mouth!”
  7. Offer rewards. Along with positive reinforcement, you could set up a points system for earning rewards. Set guidelines that work for you and your child and make sure to set realistic expectations. When you determine how many points (or stickers, or stars, or checks) your child will receive and how often, make sure that the goal is easy to attain so they will continue to be motivated. For example, if your child is used to sucking their thumb consistently throughout the day, it might be hard for them to stop completely. In this case, you can determine that they can get one point for each activity they do without sucking their thumb (playing with friends, getting dressed, the car ride to school) and when they accumulates 5 stars they get to go to the park, watch a fun movie, or any other activity that motivates them. 
  8. Be patient! The most important part of this journey with your little one is patience. While this habit can be frustrating for parents, it’s important to be patient with your child. They will likely outgrow thumbsucking when they’re good and ready.

Thumbsucking is a part of typical development, and most babies will do it at some point. Because it is a self-soothing tool, it is important to try to help your baby find a positive way to replace it with more age-appropriate behaviors. Remember that keeping a positive attitude about it and using positive reinforcement will be your biggest tools for success with your baby!

At Kinedu you will find thousands of fun activities to help your little one relax and soothe their body while keeping them entertained. Kinedu has indoor and outdoor activities for ages from 0 to 48 months with ideas to do instead, involving parents and other caregivers. Additionally, Kinedu has an entire catalog of articles that contain further information about your baby’s development.

This article provides tips and ideas for parents who want to help their babies stop sucking their thumb in a positive and effective way. If you notice that the habit persists consult your child’s pediatrician or healthcare provider.