Thumb-sucking (& finger nibbling!)

There’s hope yet.

To most of us, there is nothing cuter than the sight of a baby or a little toddler sucking away at his or her thumb. Perhaps it is also to do with the fact that a little one with a thumb-in mouth is a little one who is not up to mischief at the moment! However, some toddlers find it hard to break the habit and some even carry on sucking away at their thumb when it’s time for pre-school! If you are one of many parents who are wondering if your bub will be ditching the habit soon, there is hope yet! Read on…



A natural inclination

Sucking the thumb is nothing abnormal in babies. They are born with the natural inclination to suck. –  After all, it is how they get their nutrition. A baby can become a thumb-sucker beginning from anytime during the first few months of life. In fact, thumb-sucking may even begin while still in the mother’s womb! Some babies and even toddlers may accidentally develop the habit when they discover that sucking the thumb soothes them and helps them feel better when they’re bored or tired. To others, it is a perfectly natural way to fall asleep and self-soothe and to many, it just feels good… .

This urge to suck usually decreases as time goes by. For many babies, by the time they’re a year old or a bit more, the habit of thumb-sucking decreases by itself and eventually stops.  However, many babies continue to suck their thumbs, mainly as a way to soothe and comfort themselves. In some cases, the thumb is sucked in response to emotional issues, disorders or even anxiety.


How long is it going to last?


Children would usually grow out of thumb sucking habits naturally on their own. This can take place gradually anytime between the ages of six months to 4 years. For children who have been sucking their thumbs as a coping method to soothe or comfort themselves, the development of other coping skills such as language skills will help overcome this need. When they are  able to communicate their needs, whether they’re hungry or tired or annoyed or scared, they will be able to voice it out for their parents or caregivers who can then take the appropriate actions.

Some toddlers find that a little bit of ‘peer pressure’ from other kids like themselves at playschool or playgroups is just what they need to kick the habit. Curious stares from other kids and the desire to fit in with the others has been known to help many kids ditch their thumb-sucking habits voluntarily. Do remember though that a child who has given up on a thumb-sucking habit may revert back to the habit under stress or anxiety.

However, not all kids find it that easy to quit the thumb. This may be a cause for concern for prolonged thumb-sucking can have consequences for little developing mouths and teeth. Prolonged or intense thumb sucking may give rise to dental and speech problems for young children if the problem is not addressed in time.

Quiet moments.          

Many, if not all children who suck their thumbs tend to either clutch a treasured item such as a pillow, a toy or a blanket while sucking their thumb. Others engage in quite little activities such as twirling their finger around their hair or fiddling with a toy while sucking away at their thumb.


The consequences

There used to be a belief that as long as a child manages to stop any thumb-sucking habit before the arrival of their permanent set of teeth, there would only be minimal impact on the kid’s mouth or jaw. However, latest research has shown that there could be consequences to thumb-sucking in children as young as two years of age.

Intense and prolonged sucking of the thumb puts unhealthy pressure on the upper jaw and also the soft tissue of the upper palate. If this sucking action is prolonged long enough, it may cause the upper jaw to narrow, consequently preventing teeth from aligning properly from top to bottom. Other than having to resort to painful and uncomfortable braces to fix this problem, it can also cause speech problems, such as the inability to pronounce the letters and sounds of ‘T’ and ‘D’ properly; thrusting out the tongue when talking and possible lisping which may only be corrected with therapy.

Thumb-sucking has been identified many times as the cause of malocclusion in children, or improperly aligned teeth, particularly teeth which have been pushed forward – popularly known as bugs bunny teeth.


Also Read:  Choosing The Right Nanny For Your Baby

When it’s time to intervene      


As mentioned before, the habit of thumb-sucking usually subsides by itself without the need for intervention. However there may be reasons to be concerned about the habit, especially if any of the following are observed.

  • The thumb sucking is causing dental problems to your child’s teeth
  • Your child is sucking his or her thumb too frequently or too aggressively
  • You child has speech problems
  • Your child tends to pull or tug at his or her hair while sucking the thumb
  • A callus develops on the sucked-on thumb
  • You suspect your child is embarrassed by his or her habit but is unable to cope without the habit
  • Your child asks for help to stop the habit


Tips to help curb thumb sucking

Parents have been known to resorts to all sorts of ways to try to get their little ones to ditch the habit of thumb sucking. While wrapping junior’s thumb with a little bandage did the trick for some, others found that putting away things associated with thumb-sucking such as blankets, soft toys and such helped their bub ease out of the habit.  For some, success came at the first try while for others, nothing worked and eventually their kids ditched the habit just the same but in their own sweet time.

If you have reason to feel that your child needs to stop
sucking the thumb as soon as possible, we hope the pointers below will steer you ( and your little thumb-sucker) in the right direction.

  • Resist a confrontation. – Waking up one morning to tell your child “This has gone too far and you will stop sucking your thumb today or else” would be unfair to your little one, akin to pulling out the rug from underneath them. Instead of criticizing the little one when he or she is sucking away at the thumb, try instead to offer praises when they’re not.
  • Get creative ( and crafty!) – Ask your child if a favorite TV or cartoon character sucks their thumb. While watching bub’s favorite shows together,  talk about how these characters are NOT sucking their thumbs. This may help boost your little one’s decision to kick the habit.
  • Try striking a deal with your child by limiting thumb-sucking times to bed-times and nap-times. By limiting the times when thumb-sucking is acceptable, the habit could wear off by itself by the sheer nuisance of having to ‘remember’ and ‘wait’ for the right time to suck the thumb.
  • Resist applying nasty-tasting substances on your child’s thumb as a quick fix to curb the habit. It will only cause further stress which will heighten the need to suck on
    the thumb and in turn leave you with a frustrated, inconsolable child.
  • If your little one’s thumb sucking is stress-induced, observe the day’s goings-on more closely and try to identify the triggers. Alternatively, you can try offering  reassuring cuddles or a pillow to hug
  • Do not stop a child form sucking his or her thumb when they are injured, sad or traumatized, for that is the time he or she needs to be in their comfort zone and prohibiting this just serves to make things worse than they already are.
  • Use positive reinforcements as encouragement. Offer rewards or special treats when your child goes the day or even half the day without sucking the thumb. You can also try placing attractive stickers on the calendar to show how well he
    or she is progressing in their effort of ditching the thumb-sucking habit.
  • Gently does it. When your child is sucking away in public or in the presence of others, resist the urge to embarrass them in hopes that it will force them to quit. Instead, have a secret code or signal between the two of you to ‘remind’ your little one if he or she happens to suck their thumb without realizing it. It will also teach your child about respect and that it is not alright to embarrass people in public.



Do not shame, insult or punish a child for thumb-sucking. This will only serve to lower his or her self-esteem and cause more anxiety.


Talk to your child about the habit.

Be vocal but gentle to your child about his or her thumb-sucking. Let your child know that when they’re ready to ditch the habit, you will be right there to help them do it. Because you have offered that empowerment, don’t be surprised if they do come up to you soon and say “I don’t want to suck my thumb anymore”.


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