Infants usually need help soothing themselves, and often find such comfort through the act of sucking either their thumb or a pacifier.  When two of my three children began sucking their thumbs at around 8 weeks old, I was excited because they were able to put themselves back to sleep during the night and I was able to get more rest.  However, when the habit continued beyond their second birthdays, well, I was no longer happy.

Sucking on her thumb or a pacifier serves a purpose when she is an infant, but when a child moves into toddlerhood, it becomes more of a habit than a necessity.  Unfortunately, it is a habit that can be quite expensive if continued beyond the age of three or four.  Thumb sucking can narrow a child’s mouth, leading to an uneven crossbite that may require intervention by a dentist in future years.  It may also cause an overbite, which could necessitate braces at no small expense to parents.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to help your child break this habit.

For a Thumb Sucker

If the child uses a stuffed animal or blanket when sucking his thumb, try taking it away.   This is often all it takes to break the thumb sucking habit.  Without the other comfort object, thumb sucking is not as desirable to the child.

Buy a thumb guard.  Thumb guards come in a range of sizes for children as young as two or as old as eight.  This flexible plastic guard covers your child’s entire thumb and is strapped at the wrist.  When the child tries to suck her thumb, she is instead sucking on bulky plastic, which can help quickly break the habit.  These guards run about $50, which is expensive.  However, if you compare it to the expense of braces, it is a worthwhile investment.  I would recommend using this sooner rather than later.  We used it on one of our children when he was already six, and he figured out how to finagle his thumb out.  I would imagine that a young child would be unable to do this.

Use Thum ointment.  Thum is a mixture containing cayenne pepper among other ingredients.  You put it on the child’s thumb nail like nail polish up to two times a day.  When the child starts to suck her thumb, the thumb tastes bitter, so she is less likely to continue the habit.

For Pacifier Users:

Have the pacifier fairy take them.  One day, tell your child all about the pacifier fairy who comes to take pacifiers from big boys and girls and bring them to babies who need them.  As a reward for being such a big boy and giving up his pacifiers, the fairy leaves him a small treat.  Of course, the pacifier fairy comes at night when the child is sleeping.

Intentionally “ruin” them.  There are several ways to do this.  When the child is not looking, put a little slit in the front of the pacifier so it is no longer as easy to suck.  Or, if you are more patient, stop replacing your child’s pacifiers with new ones.  Eventually they will wear out and the child will no longer have a pacifier.

Wean the child slowly.  If you child sucks the pacifier during the day, slowly wean her until it is only used at naptime and at night.  Then, take it away during nap time.  Slowly, but surely, she will be weaned from the pacifier.

Weaning a child from sucking his thumb or a pacifier is no easy feat, but it is a worthwhile endeavor because you may be avoiding years of expensive dental work down the road.  Keep in mind it is usually easier to wean a young child of two rather than an older child of four or five, so try to curb the habit fairly early.  Eventually, your child will thank you. 

What were your favorite strategies to wean your child from the thumb or pacifier?

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