How to Curb Thumb & Pacifier Habits

little girl smiling on swing

When babies are born, they rely on their parents or guardians to care for them in every way. One thing they immediately know how to do, however, is utilize their inherent sucking reflex.

After all, it is this reflex that allows them to eat and drink effectively. This ability can also facilitate self-calming or soothing for your child and can even help them regulate their emotions. But, what happens when thumb sucking or pacifier use has gone on for too long?

Continue reading to learn why it’s important to put a stop to prolonged thumb sucking and pacifier use after a certain age and how you can do so successfully.

What are the Consequences of this Behavior?

A child sucking their thumb or using a pacifier when they’re very young is normal. It can be hard for them to shake the behavior they were born knowing as it ensured food and often comfort.

Yet, there is an age at which your child should abandon these habits or risk oral complications down the road. Our pediatric dentist will begin recommending that your child stop thumb sucking and pacifiers around age 2 but if not possible, by age 4 or 5 is best.

If your child is left to suck their thumb or pacifier for an extended amount of time, the action can have an effect on the shape of their developing mouth. The alignment of their permanent teeth can also be impacted. Complications are dependent on how much, how long, and how intensely your child engages in the habit.

Our pediatric dentist may also refer your child to an orthodontist in addition to our care if it becomes clear after an oral examination that further corrections are required to fix dental issues.

Focus on Praise Not Scolding

The most important thing to remember when it comes to eliminating thumb sucking and pacifiers is that you should praise good behavior, not scold undesirable actions.

What we mean by this is if your child is not sucking their thumb or pacifier, reward them. Do not dole out punishment if they’re not acting how you’d like. Using harsh words or even teasing leads to an upset child who may then cling to the behavior even more.

You can encourage a departure from sucking habits by using star charts to mark successful days, offering daily rewards, and giving gentle reminders throughout the day.

Explore the Cause

Children suck their thumb or cling to a pacifier for a variety of reasons. They might be bored, anxious, insecure, or simply in need of comfort when sleeping. Whatever the cause, it is worth investigating if you’d like to kick the habit.

Take the time to speak with your child and ask them if anything is bothering them. Once you can figure out the underlying issue, you’ll better understand how to solve the issue at hand. Your child will also feel heard and may not resort to thumb sucking or their pacifier as often.

Other Ways to Discourage the Habit

Aside from basic praise or daily rewards, there are other creative ways to curb these habits. Note: If your child sucks their thumb or uses a pacifier to get attention from you, the best thing you can do is ignore them when they exhibit that behavior.

A few helpful tips include, but are not limited to:

  • Bandage your child’s thumb to deter sucking
  • Put a sock over their hand at night so they don’t suck their thumb while sleeping
  • Keep their hands busy with fidget toys, puzzles, fun activities, etc.
  • Offer small, non-food related rewards
  • Use bad tasting, safe nail polish or prescribed medication that can be applied to the thumb
  • Sow the pacifier into a stuffed animal to allow your child to still have it close but not be able use it

We Can Help – Call Today!

Weaning your child off their pacifier or encouraging them to avoid thumb sucking can be difficult. Fortunately, our pediatric dentist in Hudsonville, MI, has experience assisting parents on this matter. We will gladly answer any questions you may have and recommend next steps if the habit seems to be negatively impacting their oral health.

To schedule an appointment, contact us online or call Hudsonville Dental Kids today at (616) 209-4039.