Thumb sucking: Help your child break the habit

Thumb sucking can be a difficult habit for a child to break. Understand what you can do to help your child stop sucking his or her thumb.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Thumb sucking is a common habit among children. At some point, though, you might think, "Enough is enough." Here's help encouraging your child to stop the behavior.

Why do some children suck their thumbs?

Babies have natural rooting and sucking reflexes, which can cause them to put their thumbs or fingers into their mouths — sometimes even before birth. Because thumb sucking makes babies feel secure, some might eventually develop a habit of thumb sucking when they're in need of soothing or going to sleep.

How long does thumb sucking usually last?

Many children stop sucking their thumbs on their own sometime during the toddler years — between ages 2 and 4. For older kids who continue to suck their thumbs, peer pressure at school usually ends the habit.

Remember, though, even a child who's stopped sucking his or her thumb might revert to the behavior when he or she is stressed or anxious.

When should I intervene?

Thumb sucking isn't usually a concern until a child's permanent teeth come in. At this point, thumb sucking might begin to affect the roof of the mouth (palate) or how the teeth line up. This is more likely to occur if a child sucks vigorously, as opposed to passively resting the thumb in his or her mouth. However, aggressive thumb sucking can cause problems in baby teeth.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says treatment is usually limited to children who continue thumb sucking after turning 5.

July 29, 2015 See more In-depth