How Do I Get My Toddler to Stop Thumb-Sucking?

Kid sucking her thumb

Most children develop comfort habits as babies. Research suggests that habits such as thumb sucking might even start in the womb. 

Comfort habits are designed to help a child soothe himself when tired, hungry or distressed. Habits that move development forward are beneficial, but some habits can actually get in the way of your child’s development and may need some re-direction.

Thumb Sucking Habit

If your child sucks his thumb for calming down or putting himself to sleep and it works, that can be a useful habit.  If your child sucks his thumb all day long and prefers sitting and sucking his thumb to playing with you, and learning word formation, that can be problematic.  Generally, a bad habit is defined as one that interferes with a child’s every day functioning.  So the habit of not wearing one’s shoes is all right as long as the child puts his shoes on to go about town. The habit of rocking is all right if the child rocks for short-term comfort, it’s not all right if he does it all day at school and friends shun him.

The Blanky Habit

The blanky is every child’s best friend. Well known to parents as a tissue, a food bib, and an occasional mop, the blanky is all about security and our kids deserve that. How do blankies miraculously survive so many years in the hands of a child until they are but a meaningful shred? So, what is the problem with the blanky habit? Most parents are concerned that their child is too old to be carrying a blanket. However, allowing children comfort items such as blankies for as long as they desire does have positive consequences. Security blankets can help children adapt to new situations and aid in learning. To turn the habit into a more socially appropriate behavior, simply re-direct the use of the blanky to be age appropriate.  For example, a two year old might be able to take a blanky to the store, but a four year old may leave blanky at home on their bed during the day.  Remember even teens like their childhood comfort items so don’t mock or tease them.

The Solution

If your child is developing a habit that is not serving him as he gets older redirect the habit by substituting more age appropriate activities or by limiting the time the child exhibits the habit each day. Don’t fret, these habits are learned behaviors that can be re-directed, changed or replaced as children get older.