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Suffolk Center for Speech


Breaking the Thumb Sucking Habit

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex that promotes feelings of safety, comfort and pleasure in children. However as children grow older, thumb sucking may impede proper growth of the mouth. Thumb sucking may also lead to misaligned dentition, a high roof in the mouth, and a lisp. Thumb sucking may also impede the child from learning other ways to cope with stress and lead to being teased by peers who are “non-suckers”. It is important to remember that thumb sucking is a learned habit. A majority of children independently break their thumb sucking habit by five years old. However other children take longer, which is why the timing of parent intervention is crucial. Some general tips to help children break the thumb sucking habit include:

  • Weaning the child off gradually
  • Avoid ridiculing or teasing an older child for thumb sucking
  • Offer rewards and find different incentives that will motivate the child to stop
  • Allow thumb sucking at certain times and places for a specific length of time using a timer. This time should be reduced up to 10% each day. Positive praise will assist with reinforcement
  • Choose a ‘penalty’ (e.g., paying a dime, taking time away from an enjoyable activity) for the child when they suck their thumb outside of the predetermined time/place
  • Introduce other activities that utilize both hands to replace thumb sucking (e.g., playing the piano, sports)
  • Place a glove or mitten over the child’s hand, but remove it when they take a nap
  • Use a bitter tasting substance on the thumb nail, especially during sleep

-Babita B.

Spivey, B. (n.d.). Help Your Child Break the Thumb Sucking Habit. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from
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