Breaking the Thumb Sucking Habit

If you’ve got some thumb suckers in your family, and are at a loss at what to do, here’s what you should not do. Don’t use wasabi–the little ones just wash it off. Don’t use band-aids–oh, the kids will convince you that the band-aids are working for a while, but the minute your back is turned, they’ll just rip it right off their thumbs. Don’t use socks and masking tape (what can I say? Desperate times call for desperate measures), trust me, that will only result in frustration, anger, and tears. And (most desperate of all) don’t use empty threats–kids can tell if threats are empty or not (I dunno, they have a special gift). I know what you’re thinking: Then what can I do??? But hey, don’t give up just yet mommas. We’ve got some tips that’ll hopefully keep those thumbs out of the kids’ mouths for good!

Breaking the Thumb Sucking Habit Baby and Breakfast: Parenthood Photo: Harry Lim Photography

 

1 Sit them down and explain why it's not good

Before anything else, your kids have to know why you’re doing all of this (wasabi, band-aids, socks, tape, etc.) in the first place. To them, sucking their thumbs might just be a normal, regular thing, and they might not understand why it’s not good. So, have a sit-down talk with your kids and tell them the cons of thumb sucking. Cons like their hands might not be clean, they might catch germs, they have limited coordination with one thumb in their mouths, and it’s rude when people talk to them and they just stare back with their thumbs in their mouths.

 

2 Agree on a goal and a reward

When they understand why it’s not good, then you can talk about a goal. Can they go for an entire month without sucking their thumbs? Once you’ve set a specific timeline (approximately 30 days is an optimum time), then you can get started on talking about a reward. If your little ones can go for 30 days straight without sucking their thumbs, then you’ll agree to get them their favorite toys. You can even print out a contract that all of you can sign–just to make it official!

 

3 Monitor and praise them

You can print a calendar, and have your kids cross out the days that they haven’t sucked their thumbs. Or you can have them place stickers too. And whenever you see them crossing off or putting stickers on the calendar, praise them. Praise, on top of the motivation to get a toy, will hopefully kill the habit once and for all.

 

4 Reward them

If your kids make it through all 30 days, then it’s time to reward them. Make it a big deal, and announce to the entire family that your kids have stopped sucking their thumbs. They will definitely feel proud of their accomplishment!

 

5 Monitor and encourage them

Even though the 30 days are up and your kids have their toys, keep an eye on them. Are they still sucking their thumbs? If so, maybe you can retract their toys (but be sure to put it in the contract first), or you can prolong the period to 60 days instead. And if you see them having a hard time trying not to suck their thumbs, encouraging words will go a long way.

 

Sometimes when we see our kids doing something not good or wrong, our tendency is to immediately fix the problem. We pull the thumb out of the mouth, we use wasabi, band-aids, socks, and masking tape to fix the problems ourselves. But I think that the best way to break a bad habit is to get your kids involved. Help them find the intrinsic motivation to stop the habit on their own, and you’re golden. Stopping thumb sucking (or any bad habit really) won’t be a result of punishment or taking something away. They will stop thumb sucking because they want to, and because we helped them get there.

 

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