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Thumb Sucking: Can It Be Defeated?

As some of you know from those early weeks on this blog about 2 1/2 years ago, my older son is and has always been a thumb sucker. In the early days, it was great -- no pacifier needed. But then, the habit WOULD ... NOT ... GO ... AWAY!

We tried everything. Ignoring it. Nope. Reward charts. Those methods were somewhat successful until a simple cold would knock the thumb right back in the mouth. The Thumb Guard. Not a chance. He figured out how to easily work his thumb out of the plastic and then would ask for help putting the thing back on. Teasing. The other kids didn't care. And it turned out that one of his closest friends in first grade was a thumb-sucker herself. The girl's mom and I were then pulling our hair out together. Band-Aids. Nominal success, until they fell off, sometimes four, five, 10 times a day.

Sure, I'd read parents' comments on listservs, who'd say that eventually kids outgrow thumb sucking on their own -- as they had. But here's the thing: My husband's cousin is in her 30s and STILL sucks her thumb. Like me, her mom tried everything to make her stop. Some kids, I've decided, are simply hard wired to mouth everything. And my son is one of them. Any time he'd have success not sucking his thumb, he'd chew holes all throughout the tops and sleeves of his shirts.

Earlier this month, the dentist provided an unexpected opening. The kid has pulled his top teeth so far out that the bottom ones are no longer protecting them. Braces as soon as a couple more adult teeth are in, she said, and a plate in his mouth to force him to stop sucking that thumb. Now THAT got his attention.

"Get me the stuff that tastes bad," he said after the appointment. Really? Could it be that he was FINALLY going to let me try Mavala No Stop? He's been fighting it for years and I didn't want to force it on him. Given that I can't just stop by any CVS and buy the bitter tasting nail polish, I waited a couple of weeks. His request came again, and again, and again. So, I figured he was really serious this time and sucked up the absurd online shipping costs.

Here's how it went:

Day One: We painted it on and marveled at how clear it was. He tried to wipe some on me so I could taste it, too. Joy. Nail-biting husband came home and decided he'd join the kid in solidarity. So, we painted the stuff on Dad's nails, too. Dinnertime was a blast. Seven-year-old prefers to eat with his fingers (yes, yes, don't get me started). So, a nice side effect was that he HAD to eat with silverware to avoid tasting the stuff on his thumb. Husband licked food off his fingers and spent the rest of the night rinsing his mouth out with water, tasting more by accident, rinsing again. Bedtime was the worst. "I'll never fall asleep without my thumb," wailed the 7-year-old. On went his favorite bedtime music. Into his hands went his favorite stuffed animal. And I sat by his bed. And sat. And sat. It was like the times when he was a baby and I'd have to soothe him to sleep and sneak out of the room. Eventually, sleep came. An hour late.

Middle of the night, Day One: A wet bed from sucking on a water cup straw and one squirmy 7-year-old in Mom and Dad's bed.

Day Two: Mavala lasts through Day two, just as advertised.
Night Two: 7-year-old gets to bed alright but awakens in the middle of the night and can't fall back to sleep. Back in bed with Mom and Dad. This is the second night of parents not getting enough sleep.

Day Three: We're tired and cranky, but the thumb issue has really been bat out of the park so far. He lets us reapply the Mavala, which mostly wears off in two days. After the pool and a shower, 7-year-old licks his thumbnail and tells us the Mavala isn't there anymore. Mavala reapplied. We think of this as a victory, since he could easily have not alerted us just to suck the thumb. He sleeps the entire night in his bed, now holding onto a favorite stuffed animal.

It's now been more than two weeks and the thumb remains out of the mouth. We still paint the thumb nail, though sometimes we do so every three or four days instead of two. So far, so good. And the best part: It's been MUCH easier than we ever expected. We are planning to continue to paint the thumb when he gets sick, just to make sure it doesn't restart.

How have you decided when to help your child break a "bad" habit such as a pacifier, a blankie, a thumb, etc.? What methods worked for you and what failed?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  July 15, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
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I don't know much about thumb sucking, but I think adult nail biters and finger lickers are disgusting. My former boss did both and I used to get physically sick eating lunch with him. Keeping fingers out of the mouth at any age is a good thing, esp during cold and flu season.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | July 15, 2009 7:21 AM | Report abuse

"As some of you know from those early weeks on this blog about 2 1/2 years ago, my older son is and has always been a thumb sucker."

LOL! How could I forget? The kid was sucking his thumb whilst playing with his privates 24/7 !

Jah, nail biters, finger lickers, thumb suckers, ear pickers, booger eaters, a$s pickers, and crotch scratchers are all in the league. Disgusting!

Posted by: jezebel3 | July 15, 2009 7:28 AM | Report abuse

Most kids actually grow out of bad habits, if their parents will leave them along and let them. My son used a pacifer until he was about two. I don't remember making a big deal out of getting rid of it. At some point, I just said that we had gotten to the last one in the package and we weren't going to buy any more, so when the one he was using was finished, that would be it. At some point, he dropped it down behind his bed and basically said, "All gone" and that was the end of that. Often, parents make a big deal out of things that can be treated as a little passing things. Making it into something huge only prolongs the process and frustrates everybody involved.

Posted by: margaret6 | July 15, 2009 7:56 AM | Report abuse

My five year old still sucks her thumb. I read it is genetic. Her grandfather sucked his thumb till he was 13. I have noticed she only does it when she is bored or tired. She sucks in the car, at bedtime, and while watching TV. I figured she cut down so much on her own that she will just keep going down till it is over.

Besides from braces, I am not sure what is the big deal with thumb sucking. Some kids are just way more oral than other kids. My baby sucks his two fingers. He doesn't do it as much as my daughter. She sucked her thumb from day three and it was constantly in her mouth as an infant. She also nursed till she was two.

I would think braces would help reduce or eliminate this behavior all together. How good can it feel to suck your thumb with a mouth full of metal.

I just think kids that are very oral become smokers, over eaters, gum chewers, or talkers. I think you hard wired to be oral or something else. Really it just doesn't seem to be a big deal to me.

Posted by: foamgnome | July 15, 2009 8:02 AM | Report abuse

My grandson at 8 months had to have his pacifier all the time, especially at bedtime. I suggested that my son but mavala on his pacifier. the first time he put it in his mouth, he spit it out so fast it was a blur. He made several attempts the rest of the day to use his pacifier, especially when he went to bed, but the taste was just too bitter and he finally gave up. That bitter stuff worked so great with his binky that he never even start sucking his thumb. So, moral to story, coat his binky early on and you will cure his thumb-sucking before he ever gets a thumb into his mouth.

Posted by: yankeechess | July 15, 2009 8:07 AM | Report abuse

I don't know whether to feel better or worse reading this! My 3-month old is trying his hardest to become a thumb/finger sucker and I keep putting the paci in his mouth to stop it! My 4-year-old was a paci sucker until nearly 3, and taking it away ended up to not be the big deal we anticipated.

Do I have a chance of switching him to the paci, or will I end up with a thumb-sucker? I'd rather have the paci simply because you CAN take it away if they don't drop it themselves.

Posted by: sjneal | July 15, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse

I stopped sucking my thumb at the same age and it was also because of my dentist. He went to church with us and had kids my age and sat me down in the exam room and explained exactly why I needed to stop. It was actually cold turkey after that.

It floored my mother because she had be trying EVERYTHING to get me to stop before that. You can suck that bad tasting stuff off if you're determined. It had to be my own decision (which it sounds like it was for your son).

I never put together the fact that I still decades later am constantly chewing on things. Every pen I have is mangled. I never have to worry about someone asking to borrow them, though.

Posted by: em15 | July 15, 2009 8:33 AM | Report abuse

As much as I really wasn't thrilled when my husband insisted we break our daughter of the paci at age one, I am now really happy we did. I can live with a blankie or stuffed animal or dolly (not that she really has a "favorite" thing yet), but the process of weaning her off the paci then wasn't so bad and I suspect it could have been painful had we waited. With thumb sucking or fingers in the mouth, we were both pretty much in agreement from the get go that we weren't going to let her do it...again, just made everything much easier now that she's 2.5 and doesn't have the habit.

Posted by: stephs98 | July 15, 2009 8:36 AM | Report abuse

Daughter 1 sucked her thumb until age 5, then decided to accept my bribe of getting her ears pierced if she stopped for a month. Daughter 2 sucked her thumb, and at 5, I offered her the same deal. I was told "I like my thumb, I'll let you know when I'm ready." At 6, she decided she was ready for pierced ears, and picked February to stop sucking her thumb, as it's the shortest month of the year, and then she could get her ears pierced on March 1st. Two down, one to go. I offered my son the same deal, but he didn't want his ears pierced, but he wanted his room redecorated - get rid of the baby stuff. So we went shopping, but the work wouldn't start until he had stopped for the month. It took about 2 months, but he stopped. Now all three kids (13,11,and 9 years old) are at the orthodontist - the thumb sucking made it worse, but I'm pretty sure we would be there no matter what. And, FWIW, I tried to use pacifiers, but none of the kids liked them.

Posted by: pamsdds | July 15, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

I have a 2 year old thumb sucker and I can't imagine she is going to stop on her own anytime soon. She loves her thumb like my other kids have loved their blankies. I would love for her to stop but she doesn't understand the reasons why yet and as soon as I walk away it's back in her mouth.

My neighbor said when her son was 5 and she was desperate, she asked the dentist to talk to him and he told the boy "I don't think you should suck your thumb anymore, why don't you put it in your pocket" and boy took it out of his mouth, put it in his pocket and that was the end of it. I am hoping in a few years we will have similar luck.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | July 15, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

"My grandson at 8 months had to have his pacifier all the time, especially at bedtime. I suggested that my son but mavala on his pacifier. the first time he put it in his mouth, he spit it out so fast it was a blur. He made several attempts the rest of the day to use his pacifier, especially when he went to bed, but the taste was just too bitter and he finally gave up. That bitter stuff worked so great with his binky that he never even start sucking his thumb. So, moral to story, coat his binky early on and you will cure his thumb-sucking before he ever gets a thumb into his mouth."

Why on earth are you telling your son anything about raising his kids, let alone to put nasty, punitive chemicals on an infant's pacifier? He's a baby! He's supposed to be sucking!

I rarely post mean comments, but this is beyond the pale. I get that you wouldn't want a child to hang onto a paci for too long, but at 8 months, there's no need to punish a baby for needing to suck on something.

Posted by: newsahm | July 15, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Suggestions and stories are helpful, but there is no single cure-all; it all depends on the kid (Jezebel, I'm disappointed you skipped your standard "every kid is different" response in favor of slamming Stacey's kid).

My two are very different. DD wanted nothing to do with the paci or thumb for the first 9 months of her life; we periodically tried a paci when she wouldn't sleep, she kept spitting it back out. Then, at 9 months, she discovered her thumb -- and 7+ years later, she's still sucking it. I haven't pushed it; I've told her when she's ready to stop, I'd help her, but beyond that figured the peer pressure would likely take care of it (plus she's doomed to braces anyway,). Now she wants to stop and has asked for my help, so we're going to start with vinegar.

DS was the opposite -- sucked round the clock from the minute he came out; hated the thumb, but looooooved the paci. He weaned from that pretty late (well after 2). But for him, it was like an on/off switch. He wanted it all the time for what seemed like forever, and he resisted mightily when we cut back to just sleep time. But when we finally told him he was a big boy and didn't need it any more, he dropped it cold turkey, no whining, complaining, or other problems; just handed it over and never looked back. Hasn't ever had a blankie, animal, or other lovie, either.

Posted by: laura33 | July 15, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

i have an 80 year old aunt that still sucks her thumb!!! LOL

Posted by: nall92 | July 15, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I'm 51 but was a thumbsucker as a child -- yes I am one that grew out of it although I did munch the end of my pens through High School I think. I don't know of any tendencies to munch or suck on anything obsessively now (unless you count chocolate cake in that category!). The key moment in our family -- my mom and dad tried to stop me when I was young by my dad slipping some of the bad tasting stuff on my thumb while I wasn't watching. When I predictably put my thumb in my mouth, my dad says the look I gave him of an innocent betrayed was too much and he told my mom that day that he didn't care how long I sucked my thumb but that he couldn't take that look of betrayal ever again. I remain close to my Father to this day.

Posted by: jw14 | July 15, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

We pushed to binkie on both girls. They need to comfort suck, and I wasn't happy being the binkie. ODD threw out her binkies just a month ago at 29 months. She said they were broken, walked to the trash can, and threw them in. She asked for them that night and the next, but when I reminded her she threw them away, she was OK with it. We had restricted them to her room (and planes) when she was about 18 months. Hopefully the baby will be as easy.

I was allowed 24/7 access to a bottle until I was 3. At 8 I had to have the way I spoke and swallowed corrected.

Posted by: atb2 | July 15, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

I sucked my thumb until college, when the peer pressure of having a roommate made me discipline myself out of it. My parents similarly tried everything - rewards, punishment, bad stuff on my thumbnail. By the time I was in grade school, peer pressure there didn't work because the thumbsucking was an afterschool activity. Quitting didn't really take until I made the decision myself to stop. Never had braces, and as far as I know I didn't suffer any long-term psychological effects...

Posted by: akmitc | July 15, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

my daughter sucked her thumb nonstop from about 3 months old (on her first flight). the Thumb Guard really worked for us when she was 2 years old, it only took a week and she was weaned permanently. didn't switch thumbs or start chewing on things or anything like that. my son who is 7 months has a very strong sucking reflex, and was very attached to the paci in the first few months. he's switched to the thumb now, but only when he is sleeping. i assume we will try the Thumb Guard for him as well if he is still sucking at 2 years old (i think it's a disgusting habit).

but for the poster who is trying to prevent her 3 month old from sucking her fingers, that is normal infant behavior! they suck their fingers and toys and just about everything in order to learn about textures and shapes, so i wouldn't try and prevent that or replace it with a pacifier. she may not be doing it out of the need to suck , but more out of the need to explore.

Posted by: spd279 | July 15, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

My first daughter was hooked on the pacifier. When she was 3, she asked her dad what the girl on tv had on her teeth. He said "braces, that's what happens when you use a pacifier". Overhearing this, I was horrified, but she took out her pacifier and that was that. It worked!

My second daughter sucked her middle and ring fingers together from the time she was an infant. Around 3-4 yrs. old, I can't remember how we thought of this, but we used a mitten from the dollar store which she put on that hand before she went to bed. In her sleep, when she put her hand to her mouth, she would feel the wool of the mitten and take the hand away. She kept the mitten on her night table and put it on every night - so cute! And after a few weeks, the finger sucking was over.

Posted by: manchita | July 15, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I had a very similar experience when I was a kid. I was a thumbsucker until age 8 when the dentist told me I would have to get braces if I didn't stop. Horrified at that idea, I just quit right away, no additional aids needed. I never had to get braces, thankfully.

My mom was also a thumbsucker until age 13, one of her thumbs is permanently flatter than the other because of it. Because of this, I think she always assumed I would outgrow it eventually, she never actually tried to make me stop.

I am expecting my first child in a month, this makes me wonder if he will want to suck his thumb too. I will probably take my mom's approach of leaving it alone and letting the dentist scare him out of thumbsucking.

Posted by: amandag1 | July 15, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

(First to add to the comments on thumbsucking): If only anecdotal evidence could really prove anything. . .

The orthodontic literature seems to divide the issue into 2 parts; if the kid stops before the permanent teeth erupt (age 4 or so) there will likely be no side effects. If the kid continues past that time, but sucks "passively" (thumb in mouth, loosely held, not much suction) then there still will likely be no damage.

Both the thumb pressure and the suction cause changes - not just moving teeth, but narrowing the dental arches and changing jaw bone shape.

Most doctors recommend not trying any intervention until the child is at least 3 - it doesn't do any harm and it's a simple way for the kids to deal with the stress of growing up. Babies are born with a need to suck (some suck their thumbs in the womb) and wanting to suck on something until the age of 2 or so is pretty hard-wired.

All of us "younger" parents probably had to deal with our mothers scolding us for letting our kids suck thumbs or pacifiers past the age of 6 months. The research now seems to show that kids who continue past 2-3 years will do so even if attempts are made to stop them early on. Likewise, some kids don't care that much and so give it up easily at a younger age, making grandma think she succeeded in averting a disaster - instead, she just picked the right time and the right kid.

My pediatrician had an answer to many of these issues - it always started out with "Very few kids go off to college still. . ." (fill in: sucking thumbs, breastfeeding, sleeping in their parents' bed, etc.).

Posted by: drmary | July 15, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

(On the subject of the actual question):

About getting kids to give up a bad habit in general - the kid needs to be on board (most ex-thumbsuckers will say they just "decided to stop" one day). The kids need to understand that humans can get into the habit of doing something long after they need to do it. I don't like the idea of scaring kids (like with pictures of how their faces will look) - besides, kids don't think about the future that much. In the case of thumbsucking, you could hook it into other changes of growing up ("you used to eat baby food because you had no teeth - once your body was ready for solid food, you grew teeth; thumbsucking isn't good for teeth, so you are going to outgrow that, just like you outgrew baby food").

I do think kids change their habits better when they have a habit they can substitute. If the kid is on board with stopping the habit (like thumbsucking) he can help decide what habit might be a good substitute. He might come up with some interesting ones (sleep with my baseball glove on? count my teeth with my tongue? hold some kind of odd-textured toy to give my fingers something else to do?).

My kids know the 21-day rule: if you do something for 21 days in a row, it is likely to become a habit. We use that as a goal to stick with good habits replacing bad ones - it gives them hope that they won't have to be working at changing their habits forever.

Of course, perhaps we don't like the idea of "habits" at all - Stacy mentioned "blankies" - it's important to realize that kids need certain habits and things for security (some more than others). Unless they are harmful (how can a "blankie" be harmful?) I doubt it's worth trying to change the habit (and it's probably harder to get the kid on board).

Posted by: drmary | July 15, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I dated my first true love girlfriend in HS. She was the nicest, sweetest, most gentle person I've ever met. I discovered her secret thumb sucking habit one evening while we were watching TV together and she was really, really embarrased about it and was afraid that I would think she was a freak or something. I couldn't have cared less, in fact, I thought it was seductively cute.

After she learned that I didn't mind her indulging in her habit when she was around me, she opened up and told me all about it. She told me about some of the methods her mother used to try to get her to quit, none of which worked. Bribery ended up with her just hiding it. gloves, tape, and bandaids were simply removed. Abusive techniques like nasty tasting chemicals and pepper sauce painted on her thumb didn't work, and having her thumb slapped out of her mouth only succeeded in giving her an infected sore from the cut she got from her teeth.

Having spent a lot of time with this girlfriend gave me a long lasting opinion about thumbsucking. I don't consider it a "bad" habit, on the contrary, I think of it as a good habit. Watching my girlfriend put her thumb in her mouth when she got upset and seeing the instantaneous calming, soothing effect it had on her was like, Wow! I wish I could do that! Having conversations with her as she sucked her thumb and engaged in her comforting, security ridden habit was definitely more enjoyable than watching TV. I think thumbsuckers have something that "normal" people don't, and that is, the ability to instataneously achieve a state of mind, free of anxiety, that results in clearer thinking and positive thoughts. Others have to resort to smoking, drinking, medication, or at least a half an hour on the tredmill. LOL!

Anyway, her family moved away and thus the relationship ended. [Sigh!] Since then, I purposely sought out thumbsucking girls to date, (Slightly slanted teeth, which I think is a beauty mark and discoloration of the thumbnail is a good clue). Even though I didn't marry a thumbsucker, I did date 2 other girls with the habit and that only confirmed my original opinion.

Ok, so now I'll tell you, I have 2 thumbsuckers. One pretty much gave it up when she turned into a teenager and only relies on her thumb when she is extremely tired or upset. The other, is way too attached and dedicated to consider quitting, but also, she is one of the nicest, sweetest, most gentle girls you'll ever meet.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | July 15, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

My SIL used a clever approach with my niece, who was extremely attached to her binkies. At 3.5 she began preparing K that on her fourth birthday they would bury the binkies in the backyard and the Binky Fairy would come. And on her fourth birthday they did just that, and the next morning there were lollipops in the ground where each binky was buried. K never asked for her binky again.

We used the same approach recently with my (young) stepkids when we wanted to get them out of the "chocolate milk in sippy cups" husband had unfortunately indulged way too much in this comfort routine for them before we got married, and they would constantly whine for chocolate milk in a sippy cup. It made me crazy, and beyond that our dentist friend explained to my husband how bad it is for their mouth/teeth. We talked to the kids and the Sippy Cup Fairy came that night and took the cups and left each of them a toy. I thought they would have trouble adjusting and would continue to whine, but neither one of them has ever asked for chocolate milk in a sippy cup again.

Funny, we shared with their mom our concerns (she was allowing the same thing at her house) and the Sippy Cup Fairy strategy, in case she wanted to do the same at her house. She thought it was a good idea too, and time for the sippy cups to go. So a few days later the kids told us that the SCF did not come to Mom's house, rather their mom just threw all the sippy cups in the trash and that was that! So maybe we did go a little overboard, heh. Hey, I'm new to all this, what can I say. Just doing the best I can.

As for myself I sucked my middle two fingers all through childhood. I have terrible memories of my parents putting hot sauce and bandages on my fingers, and having howling tantrums...nothing worked. I continued to suck my fingers at night until I was 11 years old. For no particular reason I just quit on my own about that age. I never needed braces but I know now that was only sheer luck!

Posted by: auntieW | July 15, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Harmful contaminants in the environment enter the body through thumb sucking.

(Lead from touching toys, paint in the home, chlordane etc in the dirt around the home, heavy metals from vinyl surfaces and fake grass automotive interiors etc, flame retardants from house furniture foam /dust etc...

It is NOT harmless. Little bits of bioaccumulative toxins add up over time.

I have to wonder what is IN Mavala's product (though being Swiss I trust it far more than American cosmetic products which get little to no scrutiny) Am I the only mom who considers this before painting her kids hands w/ polish?

Many polishes contain toluene and formaldehyde as well as phthalates and other carcinogenic or toxic chemicals. I still wear it, just less often.. and I buy a healthier version at Whole Foods.
In general , please think before putting chemicals on your kids.

Also check out They have a cosmetic safety database that is quite helpful for the non scientist.

Posted by: mbamom | July 15, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

if emily from yesterday encounters mbamom, she will be in big, big trouble.

Posted by: anonfornow | July 15, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

RE: Harmful contaminants in the environment enter the body through thumb sucking.

There's some speculation however that exposure to dirt and other natural "contaminants" protects against immune disorders later in life. A totally clean environment may well pose a hazard too because kids are building up their immune system. Just a thought.

Posted by: annenh | July 15, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

"Harmful contaminants in the environment enter the body through thumb sucking."

. . . as opposed to sticking an unwashed breast, or a binkie that's been sitting on a table, in one's mouth.

Isn't it amazing that the human race survived all these years with thumbs attached to our bodies and no one like mbamom to warn us all off of self-comforting?

Posted by: anonfornow | July 15, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

"Harmful contaminants in the environment enter the body through thumb sucking."

. . . as opposed to sticking an unwashed breast, or a binkie that's been sitting on a table, in one's mouth.

Isn't it amazing that the human race survived all these years with thumbs attached to our bodies and no one like mbamom to warn us all off of self-comforting?

Posted by: anonfornow | July 15, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Oral sex?

Posted by: jezebel3 | July 15, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

My older daughter sucked her thumb until she was nearly 8. For a long time I just figured that she would stop when she was ready. I thought that she would stop when she started school, but she never sucked her thumb at school. Finally I told her that I would fine her one penny every time I saw her sucking her thumb during the day. I wasn't going to monitor at night, so I just said night time sucking was okay for the time being. I got richer by 3 cents--she stopped daytime sucking within a day, and nighttime sucking soon after.

My younger daughter had to have surgery on her mouth at age 3 1/2 due to a congenital condition. She had to wear arm restraints for two weeks at night to keep her hands away from her mouth. Between the two weeks of enforced no sucking, and the significant changes in the structure of her mouth, she never went back to sucking.

Posted by: janedoe5 | July 15, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Thanks to those of you who have been sharing your own thumb sucking and paci stories.

In terms of the question of contaminants that's been raised, my non-scientific look at the two chidren in my own household reveals one striking thing: Thumb sucker rarely gets sick and when he does come down with an illness, it's nearly always short-lived. And yes, whacky, he does have a very gentle, sweet personality much like those ex-girlfriends of yours ;-) My non-thumb sucker (who did suck his two middle fingers early on but broke the habit on his own) catches everything and is often sick.

Posted by: StaceyGarfinkle | July 15, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

My almost three year old, A, sucks her thumb and my one year old, L, has taken on to the habit. My oldest two (M & E) never took to pacifiers or thumbs. If we catch A with her thumb in her mouth we put our thumbs in our mouth and she'll stop to tell us that we're silly then she'll go play. I'm not too concerned yet with trying to get her to stop. What irks me the most is when complete strangers come up to HER (not me) and say something about it.

A also has a lovie, an elephant named Gigi. That thing goes everywhere with her. M had a blankie for a while, but when A was born, we asked him if he would like to give it to her as a gift and he was happy to give it up that way. E is almost 5 and has a baby doll and a teddy bear that she has to sleep with, but she's ok with leaving them in her room during the day most of the time. The teddy bear usually accompanies us on any errands though. So far, L doesn't have a lovie or blankie. He will actually walk around his crib and throw out anything besides a blanket.

Posted by: MEALmama | July 15, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

We had a visit a couple of weeks ago with friends from out of town, and their only child, a 7-year old. I noticed him sucking his thumb several times during the visit, including when we were out to dinner at a pizza place. No one mentioned it, I didn't think it was a big deal.

Posted by: cjbriggs | July 15, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

We have 3 1/2 year old twins. One was a binky boy, the other never cared for it. The binkies were "lost" around the time we learned Secondo has autism. It was keeping him from interacting and we worried it might be a kind of behavior known as stimming (self-stimulation). He hasn't missed them.

Primo never cared for binkies, but was (and still is) a finger sucker. Always the two middle ones. He still does it for comfort at times, but I've noticed that his fingers are more loosely held in the mouth. As he is intensely interested in reading and drawing, his fingers spend less time in the mouth and it's something that tends to happen mostly around bedtime. So, I think we've lucked out in that it's a cute behavior that is naturally fading.

So, this looks like something that has faded naturally. Good luck with your thumb sucker!


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 15, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I never sucked my thumb or used a pacifier; I needed braces. My brother started sucking his thumb 30 seconds after he was born, and continuted until he was about 5 years old. He never needed braces! Perfectly aligned teeth.

My parents put the bad-tasting stuff on his thumb, but he'd just rinse it out as soon as he could. He stopped by himself when he was old enough to notice other children his age didn't have this habit. A classmate of mine, on the other hand, occasionally sucked her thumb even in High School. She was really sweet, so I don't think anyone ever had the heart to tease her about it. Go figure!

Posted by: asd6 | July 15, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Neither of my kids have ever sucked their thumbs or been attached to bottles, pacifiers, blankets or such. My son nursed for more than 4 years and my daughter is still nursing, so I suspect they got their oral fix in this way.

Posted by: emily8 | July 15, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I sucked my thumb until I was about 12. Never needed braces but my mouth "conformed" to my thumb and the desire to have my thumb is STILL in my mouth, decades later, even though I haven't sucked since then. I have always needed something in my mouth - chewed on spoons, straws, my nails - still can't beat that habit. Some of us are just pre-disposed that way (or develop it for whatever reason). For my kids, I didn't want them to have to struggle with it like I did, so I used a pacifier with my son and daughter doesn't use anything.

Posted by: MomSarah | July 15, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Love this post--love hearing that you can resolve things together and help your kid solve his problem, not just forcing the issue! Good luck!

Posted by: janey83 | July 15, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

"My brother started sucking his thumb 30 seconds after he was born..."

Hahaha. You can bet he was sucking his thumb well before he was born. Some get caught on sonagram.

Though most stories submitted today claim success, my research on the matter is much different. I think that once a child hits about 5 or 6 with a strong thumbsucking habit, he/she will most likely continue with it through adulthood and bring it to the grave. Hiding the habit is easy to do, and I've heard several stories of a married spouse sucking his/her thumb for several years before their partner found out.

Can it be defeated? I'm not so sure with many cases, but after the age of 6 or so, I would advise the parent not to resort to any heavy handed techniques without the will of the child to get them to stop. If they don't stop, oh well, another person will grow up with a harmless habit who has the gift of being able to instantly sooth themself with something they carry around with them at all times. Good for them!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | July 15, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it is necessarily about being really orally focused. My kids never were very interested in pacifiers or thumb-sucking. But my son totally put everything into his mouth including grass, flowers, dirt, sand (if I wasn't watching anyway) and could bite holes in just about any toy. He was just different about being oral. He even gave up the bottle pretty young (under a year old) when he realized he could get a lot more milk or juice more quickly from a cup.

I never sucked my thumb either, but have always chewed my fingernails. Sometimes, if I have gone through a very non-stressful period I realize they are growing out but generally I never need to clip them. Fortunately, neither of my kids developed that bad habit!

Posted by: catherine3 | July 15, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

I got lucky with the binky weaning at 9 months. My son got his first bad cold at that age and couldn't breathe out of his nose for about a week so he had to breathe out of his mouth. We just decided not to give it back when the congestion cleared and by that time he had forgotten about it. That cold was a blessing in disguise!

Posted by: | July 15, 2009 6:42 PM | Report abuse

fr yankeechess:

>...That bitter stuff worked so great with his binky that he never even start sucking his thumb. So, moral to story, coat his binky early on and you will cure his thumb-sucking before he ever gets a thumb into his mouth.

Moral to story: Do NOT put foreign stuff on a pacifier or a thumb, as it can be toxic to a child.

Posted by: Alex511 | July 16, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

I am not sure why anyone would want to paint a bad tasting chemical on a childs thumb. It just does not make sense since they can suck it off. What worked for us was a product called Thumbuddy To Love. You can get it on Amazon or their web site ( It is fun for the kids and they eventually get it to stop thumb sucking.

Posted by: Jill13 | July 16, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

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