Tips for Kicking the Thumb Sucking Habit

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Breaking Thumb Sucking

I have gone through kicking the thumb sucking habit with two of my three kids and had a wildly different experience with each child.  The first was clean and easy, the second we had a few false starts but we finally broke through.

The main thing I learned is that it only works if your child is a willing participant. If they are not on board then just stop the process because everyone involved will get very frustrated (mostly me).

Method One – Stickers and Rewards

It takes 21 days to break a habit, or create a new one.  21 days is all it takes to break a child of a thumb sucking habit said my pediatric dentist.

21 days of constant reminders and sticker charts and rewards.  Suddenly 21 days was starting to sound like 21 months.  It is probably just me but I am the worst at trying to keep track of the sticker chart reward system.  I tried to use it for potty training and I was so inconsistent with it that I ended up just giving my kid the sheet of stickers which of course ended up getting put on the toilet.

As I was putting my son to sleep on our attempted first of 21 nights of kicking the thumb sucking habit and he was trying really hard not to suck his thumb.  I started to wonder, do you have to start the week over if he sucks his thumb on the 6th night? Or the month over if it is on the 19th night?  That seems a little unfair.

As he lay wide awake almost an hour past his regular bedtime and my concern shifted from thumb sucking to how tired he was going to be at school the next day.  I caved and said, “you know what buddy, you did a great job, I’m proud of you for lasting this long, but you really need to sleep.  So how about we restart this on Friday night when you don’t have to get up for school the next day.”  With that he resumed his thumb sucking and was asleep in less than a minute.  So alas, my track record of success with sticker charts was right on course.

But lo and behold the 21 day program worked!  It is broken up into manageable bits of time; daily stickers, 1 reward at the end of each completed week of stickers, for 3 weeks – 4 if you want to make it rock solid as my husband would say.  For the last week the dentist recommended having something that would get them really excited, like picking out their own toy. So my son picked out his toy before we started and I put a photo of it on his chart so he knew what he was working toward. At the end of the 4 weeks we went back to the store and purchased it.

Reward ideas:

  • picking out a new book
  • deciding where the family gets to go for dinner one night
  • or picking the main course for dinner at home
  • having a family cupcake party or some little celebration

The final hurrah was a trip back to the dentist for a special photo that goes up on their wall. Which I think seals the deal.

Method Two – Everything Under the Sun

My second child was NOT on board when we started trying to get her to stop sucking her thumb and that was my biggest mistake. Not only was it frustrating for me but it probably wasn’t much fun for her either.

I first started with the sticker chart and she may as well have laughed in my face. She didn’t find stickers rewarding and didn’t get the connection between not sucking her thumb and getting a sticker thus resulting in a reward. We tried splitting it into AM and PM stickers for quicker feedback but that didn’t work either. She has always had a sweet tooth so I tried a gumball dispenser with M&M’s, that failed too.

My Special Shirt

I found these pajama shirts online that have mittens sewn into them to help kids stop thumb sucking. They were great shirts, I bought two of them thinking it was genius. When I went into her room the first night she was topless sucking her thumb.  If your kid is old enough and wants to suck their thumb, they are easy enough to just take it off. Again, this would have been great if she had been on board. The company was My Special Shirt and it looks like their site is no longer up. You can make your own by sewing a mitten to the sleeve of a pajama top.

Dentist Visit

My daughter LOVES our dentist which really helped us with this I think. Our dentist did a great job of gearing her up and getting her to buy into the process. If you are stuck it might be worth having a side conversation with your child’s dentist to see if they can help sell them on the idea.

Sticker Chart

After my daughter was on board post dentist pep talk we revisited the sticker chart. She decided that a Snow White dress was an appropriate final reward and since we’d been at this for over 3 months already I decided that yes, whatever will motivate her to stop is worth it for me.

At the end of the process her sticker chart was 7 weeks long, we kept adding weeks as it was a much tougher habit for her to break than it was for my son. To her credit she really was trying, but I couldn’t get her the Snow White dress until the habit was definitely broken.

About 5 weeks into it she was on a good streak but was really struggling with not doing it at night when she was going to sleep. It was about that time that we happened to be back at the dentist.

Mavala

I told the dentist what a great job my daughter was doing but that we were just having a bit of trouble at night. She handed us a bottle of Mavala which is a terrible tasting nail polish to paint on her thumbnail. It worked like a charm. She would remind us to put it on her at night and it was that little extra thing she needed to get through her final two weeks that gave us a three week streak and finally ended her thumb sucking. I think she ended up using the nail polish for a few weeks after that just because it made it easier for her and she knew it worked.

The dentist’s motivation for getting them to stop was based on her seeing their teeth move. I never sucked my thumb and I still had braces so I was less concerned about that and more concerned about how sick they were both getting all the time, mainly because of all the germs they were picking up in school and then putting in their mouths.

It was a challenging few months but in the end it was worth the energy.

Do you or did you have any kids dependent on thumbs or pacifiers? What worked for you?

shine-on-post-signoff-final

~Sarah

 

Disclaimer: The Mavala link is an Amazon affiliate link. If you purchase from that link I will get a referral fee.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    I must confess, I never grew out of my thumb-sucking habit. My mum tried everything! It made my teeth squint and I had to have a brace. I still suck my thumb now at night if I need comfort! Weird but true! Maybe I need to try the 21 day thing ;)

  2. says

    Its a tough habit to kick because its such a comfort. Buy the Mavala, it might help. But again, only if you want to stop ;)

    Thanks for sharing Genna!!

    Have a great day,
    Sarah

    • says

      Hi Sarah,

      My daughter had a similar problem and without being able to find an affordable comfortable intervention when I was looking for ways to get her to stop, I took action. I designed and patented the Thumb Sucker Sleep Shirt. It is snug fitting (difficult to get off but super comfy) and offers an alternative way to self sooth at the end of the sleeve. As a child and adolescent therapist and behavior therapist in ABA. I believe thumb and finger sucking needs an intervention at 9 months- 2 years. This way it doesn’t develop into a serious habit. I am currently working on my PhD and have been researching thumb sucking and interventions more and found support to stop it before 2 because of changes that occur with the palette structure of the mouth. Of course this depends on suction or rigor of the Thumb or finger sucking itself as to whether damage occurs. My daughter was pretty good at it and by 18 months I could see an over bite starting, her teeth separating, and one tooth being pulled forward. The shirt I made worked within 2 months as I started using after she turned 2. However, now at age 4, every once and a while I catch her going back to her old habits though only about once a month or when she is not feeling well. This leads me to believe that the intervention needed to occur earlier and I wish I had thought to do it earlier but my dentist and pediatrician said don’t worry about it. My current research has shown that 9 months is a good age to stop pacifiers and thumb sucking if you can. As a therapist I see a lot of clients who suffer from teasing, speech problems and other issues as a result of prolonged thumb and finger sucking. My hope is that this coping skill can be changed early on to provide an alternative way of coping/self soothing with the use of my sleep shirt and the padded area in the end of the sleeve of the shirt. That was designed to simulate the edge of a blanket for them to rub between their fingers, the habit my son had and still has at age 7. He gently rubs the edge of a blanket between his thumb and index finger to help him sleep at night.

      Please visit:

      http://www.ThumbSuckerSleepShirt.com

      For more information. I am expecting my first factory made large order soon!

    • N. Pruett, MS says

      Hi Sarah,

      My daughter had a similar problem and without being able to find an affordable comfortable intervention when I was looking for ways to get her to stop, I took action. I designed and patented the Thumb Sucker Sleep Shirt. It is snug fitting (difficult to get off but super comfy) and offers an alternative way to self sooth at the end of the sleeve. As a child and adolescent therapist and behavior therapist in ABA. I believe thumb and finger sucking needs an intervention at 9 months- 2 years. This way it doesn’t develop into a serious habit. I am currently working on my PhD and have been researching thumb sucking and interventions more and found support to stop it before 2 because of changes that occur with the palette structure of the mouth. Of course this depends on suction or rigor of the Thumb or finger sucking itself as to whether damage occurs. My daughter was pretty good at it and by 18 months I could see an over bite starting, her teeth separating, and one tooth being pulled forward. The shirt I made worked within 2 months as I started using after she turned 2. However, now at age 4, every once and a while I catch her going back to her old habits though only about once a month or when she is not feeling well. This leads me to believe that the intervention needed to occur earlier and I wish I had thought to do it earlier but my dentist and pediatrician said don’t worry about it. My current research has shown that 9 months is a good age to stop pacifiers and thumb sucking if you can. As a therapist I see a lot of clients who suffer from teasing, speech problems and other issues as a result of prolonged thumb and finger sucking. My hope is that this coping skill can be changed early on to provide an alternative way of coping/self soothing with the use of my sleep shirt and the padded area in the end of the sleeve of the shirt. That was designed to simulate the edge of a blanket for them to rub between their fingers, the habit my son had and still has at age 7. He gently rubs the edge of a blanket between his thumb and index finger to help him sleep at night.

      Please visit:

      http://www.ThumbSuckerSleepShirt.com

      For more information. I am expecting my first factory made large order soon!

    • says

      Hi Jo, I’ve never seen those, looks like a clever idea. Clearly for the child who is already on board with the decision to stop, otherwise they could just take it off. But something as simple as that could be really effective because often it is an unconscious habit so if there is a change to the sensation then it will trigger them to stop. Thanks for sharing! Sarah

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