Breaking the Thumb-Sucking Habit

She’s always right and I know that, but I really thought this time would be different. After all, I’m a smart woman and people go through this all the time. And anyway, I had a book. And it came highly recommended from a friend who had been through it, too.

(Everyone wants to, nay, needs to be right sometimes, but why did I choose behaviour modification as the thing upon which I’d hang my hat? I know it’s not the best way to seek desired results. But I had a book, and I blinded myself by wanting the end result and wanting to be right.  I still can’t believe I went up against my mother-in-law, determined to be right, with behaviour modification.  What was I thinking?)

But this summer, armed with a book, and all the psychology I learned in college, and ignoring my very wise mother-in-law, we set out to once-and-for-all make a concentrated effort to help Little Red break out of the thumb habit. After a long (and very expensive) summer, we were successful. A week or so before school started back he was finished.

When school resumed, same class, same teacher, same room, it only took a week for him to slip into that old habit. I knew we had done it the wrong way (despite having a book,) and when he later told me that he was going to keep sucking his thumb until I got him more toys then I knew I was in big trouble. Now all of the “tricks” we had used to help remind him to stop sucking his thumb do nothing. Now I am sunk.

The bigger problem is that after investing so much energy into his thumb this summer I have no tolerance for the behaviour. (It usually is paired with sticking his index finger up his nose which then preceeds him making some sort of blowing his nose noise.) It drives me crazy. I get irrational. I go from normal and happy to wanted to scream immediately.

His teeth are really starting to buck out, his speach has deteriorated (saying “thingers” for fingers and “wather” for “water,”) and his friends have started to say, “why do you suck your thumb?” I had hoped to skirt the social mockery that happens to a buck-toothed, nose-picking, thumb-sucking boy. And every day that goes by and he circumvents my suggestions to help him remember I get crazier and crazier still.

It was a 2010 resolution at which I failed. Worse still, the longer this goes the more likely I am to ruin my relationship with him and squash his spirits. I want to step back and give him some breathing room but as much as I try I just can’t un-invest. I feel like such a failure. How do I break the thumb-sucking habit without breaking the child?  Can someone please suggest a good book for that?

7 thoughts on “Breaking the Thumb-Sucking Habit

  1. I sucked my thumb until I was nine. The more people pushed me to stop, the more I stubbornly kept on doing it. The only thing that got me to stop was a palette widening device that was put in by my orthodontist since I had pushed the roof of my mouth up with the sucking. And yes, I eventually had to have braces.

    Here’s the thing, though. I had a lot of anxiety as a kid. Still do. If my anxiety was addressed I think things would have been different. I’m *sure* I was sucking my thumb as a comfort measure. Perhaps your son just needs to learn new coping/self-comfort skills.

    1. I think you’re exactly right. Do you have any suggestions for new self-soothing skills for six year olds? (and to think we tried to hard to get him to form a stronger attachment to his teddy bear.)

  2. I haven’t had thumb sucking issues, but my mom dealt with 3 of her 5 kids as thumb suckers. My brother dislocated his shoulder when he was about 3 and was put in a cast, which wouldn’t let him reach his mouth so he was done. My youngest sister sucked her thumb until she was about 12, and the only reason she even started was because my other sister taught her (even told her) to do it. The older of my two little sisters had a pretty big gap between her teeth as a kid and never smiled with her teeth showing, but because of her genetics, her teeth grew back together and she’s the only one of all of us that never had braces.

    Anyway, I noticed with my sister that the more we bugged her about quitting, the more she would suck it. Eventually it was just a night-time thing and then for some reason she stopped. Maybe he just wants it in his own time. Of course that’s easy for me to say when I’m not the one with the kid who sucks his thumb. Good luck. I wish I could be more help.

  3. Are you seriously asking for suggestions? Because if you are, I’ll give you mine. If not, just ignore anything else I say.

    Don’t stop him. He’ll stop sucking his thumb when he’s ready to. I sucked my thumb until I was very old (still won’t reveal how old. Sorry!!). I was definitely old enough to know better, and I was definitely old enough to come up with other strategies. I know that I sucked my thumb for comfort (heck, my parents divorced when I was very young, I am the oldest child, and I suffer from perfectionism and have some major anxiety issues. Top it all off with clinical depression… and can you blame me for wanting to suck my thumb??). To this day when I am extremely stressed out and anxious or depressed, I still feel that urge to pop the thumb in my mouth. I never had speech problems. I have a slight overbite, but not enough that anyone has ever noticed. It drove me crazy when I was younger to have people ask me “what does your thumb taste like?”, but it was never enough to make me quit. The more people wanted me to stop, the more I found creative ways to hide it. That’s all. As I got older, I only did it at night to fall asleep. At sleepovers, I slept with the blankets completely covering my head. I still like to sleep like that.

    Dallin is a thumb sucker. I have made no moves for him to quit. He is the only one of my boys who goes to bed and goes to sleep at night. He’s the only one who has never gotten up in the middle of the night asking to sleep with us. He self-soothes… yes, with his thumb. He never used a pacifier or a bottle to sooth himself. He weened himself early on. He is our best sleeper because of his thumb. I’m fine with it. He doesn’t suck his thumb at school or in Primary. When we are out in public and he starts sucking his thumb it means that he is extremely tired or sad. We ask him to wait until we get into the van or until we get home, and he’s good about that. He’s allowed to suck his thumb at home. It’s a safe place. He has the most perfect teeth of my three kids (I even asked the dentist about thumb sucking and he said it’s not really affecting anything). He doesn’t have any speech difficulties. If he tries to talk with the thumb in his mouth, we ask him to take it out so we can understand him. However that is a really rare thing for us to have to ask.

    So my advice… screw everyone else. He’ll quit when he’s ready to quit. Set some ground rules (like no thumb sucking at school or Primary), and then ignore it.

    1. Sariah, I really really appreciate your comments. It was exactly what I needed to loosen up and lay off a little. I will refer to these often. Thank you!

  4. What a challenge. My son was into pacifiers. maybe an easier habit to break because you can get rid of them. I hope it goes well. Eventually he will learn. Have you tried appealing to his “big boy” self? We did that with my son and had him give away his pacifiers to another family with a baby (and the mother promptly threw them away). I’ve read somewhere that sucking past the age of 5 may be related to boredom or even some other need he has that he is substituting for the thumb. Do you notice particular times he’s using his thumb? Hope it gets better. I am always looking for ways to take care of my kids and found this Mom’s Guide to Caring for Little Teeth ( Hope it can be a help to you too.

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