How to Stop Thumb Sucking Ages 3 to 5?

“Quit being such a baby,” Jamie scolds her three-year-old daughter, as she pulls her thumb out of her daughter’s mouth. As soon as Jamie looks away, her daughter pops her thumb back in her mouth. Jamie continues to pull out her daughter’s thumb while walking the aisles of the grocery store. She finally gives up and stops trying to fight her daughter. Jamie is frustrated and embarrassed by her daughter’s behavior and begins to wonder if her daughter will ever grow out of this or if she will continue and mess up her perfect little smile.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you have lots of company if you wonder, “How do I stop toddlers from thumb sucking?”

Thumb sucking is a common trait of toddler development since it’s a leftover self-soothing technique from infancy. Since a thumb is always available children don’t have to find a person or object (pacifier) to comfort them.

As children reach older child development stages, however knowing how to stop thumb sucking ages 3 to 5 can be a bigger challenge with fewer parents who can empathize.

Dealing with thumb sucking can be a frustrating and embarrassing issue. By age three it may seem like it’s too late, but there are many simple solutions that can help your children  replace this unhealthy habit.

Reasons for Thumb Sucking:

The Parent’s Toolshop® book says, “Respect the importance of security objects. One way young children cope with emotions is to depend on objects. Sucking a thumb or hugging a blanket is not a sign of weakness. It is usually a temporary means of managing their emotions. When infants suckle, it stimulates brain cell development and growth. As your infant grows into a toddler, suckling is used as a self-comforting habit.”

If this habit isn’t replaced, how to stop thumb sucking ages 3 to 5 can be even harder.

Reactions to Avoid:

If you feel embarrassed by your children’s thumb sucking it’s usually a reflection of a mistaken belief that thumb sucking is a sign of weakness, you shouldn’t care about what other people think, or that your children’s behavior is a reflection on your parenting abilities. These beliefs and feelings can result in unhelpful reactions.

Since thumb sucking is used by children to feel comforted or secure, you especially want to avoid reactions that scare, humiliate, or create anxiety in children. For example, avoid put downs such as, “quit being such a baby” or “grow up.” These remarks may cause your toddlers to feel more insecure any may increase their need or comfort.

Solutions for Thumb Sucking:        

  • Teach your toddlers to express themselves verbally when they are feeling insecure. Be there to offer hugs ad empathetic ear, so they learn how to get human reassurance instead of always looking to security objects. As children improve their emotional vocabulary, they will use words more often to express their feelings.
  • Replace your children’s thumb with a blanket, stuffed animal, or pillow to hug and comfort.
  • Use non-verbal signals in public to correct this behavior, so your toddlers don’t feel humiliated.
  • You can involve older children in problem solving. Explain the problems thumb sucking can cause — in a very nonjudgmental matter-of-fact way — and ask children to suggest ideas for other things they could do or say.
  • If your toddlers are still sucking their thumbs by the age of three or don’t seem to believe what you tell them about potential problems of continuing, then have a dentist explain, very matter-of-fact, what might happens if they continue.

Your ultimate goal in breaking habits like thumb sucking is to teach skills your toddlers can use as they mature, so they can find security and emotional comfort in  healthier ways.

Even though thumb sucking is a frustrating and embarrassing habit, know that it is common among normal toddlers and that your toddlers can quickly pass through this stage as they mature — with your support, training and guidance.

For more tips and solutions to help your children stop embarrassing habits get a free preview of  The Parent’s Toolshop® and its unique Universal Blueprint® problem-solving system. You will be less frustrated, respond more calmly and feel more confident in any parenting situation.

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Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is president of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30+ years experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. She is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop® and countless multimedia resources that support and educate parents from diverse backgrounds and needs, and other adults who live or work with children. You can find them at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.

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