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Thumb & Finger Sucking

romethumb Both my children suck their thumb or other fingers. My 2 year old daughter, Annabelle, sucks her 2 left fingers upside down while her right hand holds her ear. My son, Roman, is only 4 months and he sucks his left thumb. Occasionally he will also hold his ear while sucking his thumb. I suspect this is because he is trying to copy his big sister. While finger sucking can be a problem in later years, I am thankful that they have found a way to comfort themselves.

A lot of my friends who have children that suck their fingers also breastfed their babies. I asked my pediatrician if she noticed that it was more common in breastfed babies and she said no. So what form you choose to feed your baby doesn’t determine if they will find comfort in their fingers or a pacifier.

Don’t Worry

When Annabelle first started to suck her fingers I got really worried and looked up the topic in my What to Expect the First Year book. The book said it wasn’t a big deal and that it shouldn’t affect her teeth, so I stopped worrying about it.  This article on Baby Center also says not to worry about it.

Of course there are many pros and cons to thumb/finger sucking. I don’t have to keep track of a pacifier or put it back in when it falls out while sleeping. My child can soothe themselves whenever and wherever they need it. I do have to wash my daughter’s hands often, so she isn’t sucking on dirty fingers. I also try not to use hand sanitizer, because I don’t want her to be sucking alcohol off her hands. When she was smaller I used to encourage her to suck her fingers when she was upset or about to fall asleep. However, you can’t force them to find comfort in their fingers if they don’t want to.

So when should I be concerned about my children sucking their fingers?

The American Dental Association says:

“Most children stop sucking their thumbs or other fingers on their own between the ages of 2 and 4 years. The behaviour lessens gradually during this period, as children spnd more of their waking hours exploring their surroundings…If a child does not stop on his or her own, parents should discourage the habit after age 4 years.”

I can already tell that my daughter is sucking her fingers less and less. It usually only when she is watching television or going to sleep. I am hoping that it will end on its own. Even Dr. Greene thinks it can end on its own.  I want to tackle potty training, before I take on another problem.

How do I help my child stop sucking their thumb?

annabellefingers eHow.com has 6 different articles on how to teach your kid to stop sucking their thumb. There are a variety of tactics and tools you can use such as: explaining how it damages teeth, using bad tasting substances, thumb guards, distractions, band aids, and sticker charts. My old pediatrician said that instead of pointing it out that you have to praise them when they don’t suck their fingers.  As with any parenting decision you have to find the one that works for you and your child. Just remember that breaking a habit can take a while, so be patient!

I don’t think my 2 year old even knows what she is doing when she does it, so I can’t start the process to stop her yet. I am not ready to tackle problem either, so for now I am letting her enjoy the comfort of her two fingers.

Have you helped your child stop sucking their fingers? If so, how? Are you concerned about your child’s finger sucking?

6 Responses to Thumb & Finger Sucking

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Breanna
    July 29, 2009 @ 6:21 am

    My daughter never sucked her thumb or had a pacifier or anything like that, but my son (age 3 now) is a thumb sucker. I haven’t yet tried to make him stop. He really only does it when he goes to sleep and when he’s sitting on the couch watching a movie or something. He’s probably getting close to the age where I should make him stop, but it’s so cute :) And it’s actually really nice that he has a way to comfort himself.

    Thanks for posting the articles! I definitely plan to read through those for guidance through this next phase.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Barb
    July 29, 2009 @ 12:09 pm

    M sucks her pointer finger – to the point where the top of it is swollen and we’ve often been asked if she has been stung by a bee. Despite the swelling, she seems to suck it predominantly at bed/naptime/whenever she gets tired or when she’s watching TV. She recently had her first dental visit and the dentist said I didn’t need to worry about it for awhile yet. She suggested that near the 2 1/2 year mark I could start working on curtailing the habit by using phrases like “Big girls don’t want to suck their thumbs.” The point being it doesn’t punish her or make her feel guilty but allows to her to choose when she wants to act like a big girl. We’ll see how that goes :) Dentist also said I didn’t have to worry too much about thumb-sucking’s effect on her teeth until closer to age 4, but even then these are just baby teeth. So I felt a bit better. Hope this info helps someone else!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Stephanie
    July 30, 2009 @ 9:31 am


    That is funny that you wrote an article on thumb sucking because lately I have been wondering about that, so thank you!

    Anyway, Ryan used to take a pacifier from birth to 2 months. This was while I was using the shield. When he finally got the hang of latching on without the shield, for some odd reason he began to suck his right thumb while his left hand would go up by his ears. Same as Roman just opposite hands! This was from about 2 months to 4 months. Then all of a sudden he doesn’t do that anymore?? I have no idea why! When he is going down for a nap he cries, and if I try to give him a pacifier he won’t take it (so I have quit the pacifier all together for a couple weeks now) When I try to encourage thumb sucking, he doesn’t want it. I try patting his back and that works sometimes, but the best way to get him to sleep is by nursing! He will stay away while nursing, and then I’ll put him in his crib while he is half asleep/half awake. I am worried that he is using me as a pacifier??? I’ve also noticed he will fall asleep in the car so the only ways to get the boy to sleep is by car or by nursing… very rarely does he go to sleep on his own.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Deb
    July 30, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

    My 15-month-old daughter is a bigtime thumb sucker (for what it’s worth, she was breastfed, and her brother, who never sucked his thumb, was not) and I’m not planning to discourage it any time soon.

    She usually only does it before bed and while she’s sleeping, but she’ll suck her thumb (always the right, preferably with her lovey scrunched in the same fist) more during the day if she’s not feeling well. With her last ear infection, the only sign that something was wrong was increased thumb sucking during the day, which lasted about a week before she came down with a fever of 102. Now I know to watch for signs of illness when she starts doing it more than usual.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Takila
    September 24, 2009 @ 11:01 am

    My 2-year old has been sucking his middle and ring finger since he was 3-months old. He started out sucking his fingers and pulling his hair or his ear. Now since he has had a hair cut and can no longer pull his hair, he pulls my hair. He only does it when he is calm or sleepy. Both of my boys were breastfed, but my 7-year old sucked a pacifier until he was 18-months old. All children need to be comforted in some way, whether it be a pacifier, fingers, or a prolonged length of time on the bottle. So please don’t let it bother you now until he gets about 4-years old.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by natalie
    January 5, 2012 @ 11:01 pm

    this is my personal reccomendation:

    STOP IT EARLY! STOP IT BEFORE THEY TURN 4!! my parents never stopped me from it and im now 19 and still suck my thumb. i can’t stop….. ive tried several different things and all things fail. im addicted. save them from the humiliation and pain ive gone through. stop it early!

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