How to Motivate Your Child to Quit Thumb Sucking

Your child wants to please you and craves your attention. Your happiness is theirs and vice versa. Motivating a child to quit thumb sucking starts with positive feedback. Praise success, and motivate with small rewards and positive attention when your child is not doing the behavior.

The worst thing you can do is yell or reprimand. Calling attention to the habit through punishment does not usually work to stop the behavior (and may even increase it!). Finger sucking is a source of comfort and security for your child, and it is incredibly difficult for them to give it up. So most importantly, you must have patience.

If your have a baby you may think of your child’s thumb sucking as cute; or if your child is a little older, you may find it annoying. Just as your perception of the habit changes, so do the tactics for motivating your child to quit the finger sucking habit. When they are young, there is a sweetness to it that is both natural and innocent. Yet as they get older the incessant sound of slurping from the backseat drives most parents up the wall.

If your child is two and under, thumb and finger sucking is an undesirable habit, and you should ween the child off.

If your child is three or older, sucking thumb is a bad habit and the AAPD recommends intervention to stop the habit.

Managing the behaviors can be difficult.When you want to change an unwanted behavior, it helps to first understand why your child is doing it.The finger sucking habit is often just a coping strategy. Your child may fall back on these behaviors when they are stressed, unhappy, bored, frustrated, or tired. Knowing when to expect it, helps you be prepared.

Will my child outgrow thumb sucking?

Most of the time, unwanted behaviors are just “phases” or habits, and the child typically outgrows them. About 20% of newborns suck thumb (and some in the womb), by age four more than half have quit, and by age six less than 6% of kids still do it – this is the age when the permanent teeth erupt and it is critical to stop.

Most kids learn how to stop thumb sucking on their own, and yet it is common for them to need a little help.

7 best ways to motive your child to quit thumb sucking

The following are proven strategies that will motivate your child to quit the sucking habit. Apply them correctly, and you’ll see your child’s self-confidence surge and watch them overcome the habit.

1. No matter your child’s age, focuses on realistic expectations
To succeed both you and your child should be realistic about the time and struggles you will endure in breaking the thumbsucking habit. Realistically, you can expect it to take up to one month to fully eliminate the habit in kids four and older; and up to two months for younger children. The younger the child, the less they can be self-motivated so the longer it will take.
You should expect to notice a change in the habit after just a few days.Be encouraged by gradual changes that make a big difference over time.
You can expect that motivation alone can achieve success. Yet when combined with a product to stop the finger sucking habit, chances for success on the first try are dramatically increased.

2. Praise your child throughout the day, and do not punish

Praise, praise, praise, and praise some more. Do not scold, criticize or ridicule your child.Through positive reinforcement you build up their own willpower and strengthen the parent-child bond. Keep it fun and positive. Everyone likes to be praised for a job well done.

Celebrate successes and help your child develop a positive self-image in the process.

If you take a day off from providing positive reinforcement, then they take a day off from trying to stop. It is a great idea to have a daily check-in with your child in the middle of the day about how it is going – it will also keep you updated of your child’s emotional status.

3. Reward your child each successful day, let them chose the grand prize
It is a great idea to reward your children for their good behavior. This will keep them motivated and will help them maintain their best behavior at all times. Daily rewards should be intangible, such as a hug, taking time to read their favorite story, or a little extra TV time.
Discuss a “grand prize” with them for fully stopping the thumbsucking habit. You don’t need to spend much, maybe just $10 or $15. Let them pick it so you know it is something important to them, and therefore something that will really motivate them.
What is important is consistency, and continually building up their self-confidence. As long as they make progress and really try, continue to reward them.

4. Track their progress every day on a calendar
Time moves much more slowly for kids, and a week to them may feel like months to us. So keep track in a visible way of how many days they have been working on stopping the habit. Place a calendar on the wall in a visible place, track progress every day. Using stickers is a great, inexpensive way to do this.
Download a FREE motivational calendar in the Parent Toolkit.

5. Read a book before bed
Reading stories with your child is one of the best ways to bond with your child, regardless of age.Let them pick out a book, and read it together before bed. This is a time when they are tired and would normally want to suck their thumb. Whenever you see them put a finger to the mouth, stop reading, and wait. When the hand drops, continue reading. Continue doing and you will love the results.

Your child will love the one-on-one time with you, and be even more inspired to stop the habit in order to keep story time going.

6. Talk to your child about what is bad about thumb sucking
Regardless of age, children love the attention that comes with being taught something by their parents.Get yourself educated on the benefits and detriments to finger sucking, and discuss them with your child. Let them know that “big kids” don’t do it, and giving up the habit is a part of growing up.

7. Scare them, just a little
For ages 6 and up, have your dentist talk with your child about the Dental Thumb Sucking Appliance. The thumb sucking appliance is a metal device that the dentist installs onto the roof of the mouth that physically interferes with putting the thumb in the mouth. The appliance is expensive and time consuming to install and maintain, so it really is a last resort.

Just talking about it in person with the dentist is often enough motivation for a child to quit thumb sucking. We recommend going to your dentist, not a pediatric dentist. Why? Because dentist offices that specialize in serving children are usually happy, friendly environments designed to relax children – this is not what you’re going for. Let your dentist do the scaring while you be the hero. Your dentist is an authority figure and will confirm everything you’ve been telling your kiddo, and explain how the thumb sucking dental appliance works. Often, this frightening visit to dentist is enough to motivate a child to quit thumb sucking forever.

To maximize your chances for success, combine these motivation techniques with the proven method to stop thumb or finger sucking.