The father of a kindergartner asks Dr. Bill how he can help his son to stop sucking his thumb Show Notes

Thursday, May 02, 2013 Host(s): Dr. Bill Maier
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Dear Dr. Bill,

My 5-and-1/2-year-old son still sucks his thumb.  Do you have any suggestions about helping him to break the habit?

--Will

Dear Will,

Every human being is born with a sucking reflex—it’s satisfying to a baby and necessary for survival. Ultrasound images show babies sucking their thumb in the womb. Most children give up thumb-sucking after they pass through toddlerhood, but many don’t. One study found that 45% of 3-4 year olds, and 15% of 5 year-olds continued to suck their thumbs.

When thumb-sucking persists into childhood, it can cause a dental problem called “malocclusion”—an improper fit between the upper and lower teeth. In addition, kids who continue to suck their thumb into the school-age years may face teasing and ridicule from other children. This can negatively impact their self-esteem for years to come.

Most pediatricians will tell you that it’s nearly impossible to stop a child from sucking his thumb until he decides to stop. This usually occurs when the negative consequences--such as teasing from other kids—outweigh the positives.

If your son wants to stop sucking his thumb but can’t seem to kick the habit, there are a few things you can do to help him. Most pharmacies sell a bitter tasting substance called “Stop-zit” which can be applied to a child’s thumb. 

You might also try offering him positive rewards for not sucking his thumb. He might earn a point or token for every hour that he avoids the behavior—and he can trade in the tokens for a special toy or privilege.

Most experts advise against punishing a child for thumb-sucking. Instead, parents can devise a simple, nonjudgmental signal to remind their child to stop sucking—such as a wink or a neutral word.

Thanks for writing Will.  If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” tab on the Culture Connection page.

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