Is thumb-sucking normal?
Thumb-sucking is normal
in babies and young children. Most babies and toddlers suck their thumbs. They may also suck on their fingers, hands, or items such as
Little by little, most children stop on their own at age 3 to 6 years.
Why do babies suck their thumbs?
Babies have a
natural urge to suck. This urge usually decreases after the age of 6 months. But
many babies continue to suck their thumbs to soothe themselves. Thumb-sucking
can become a habit in babies and young children who use it to comfort
themselves when they feel hungry, afraid, restless, quiet, sleepy, or bored.
In rare cases, thumb-sucking after
age 5 is in response to an emotional problem or other disorder, such as
Does thumb-sucking cause any problems?
Thumb-sucking in children younger than 4 is usually not a problem.
Children who suck their thumbs often or with great intensity around age 4 or 5, or those who are still sucking their thumbs at age 6, are at risk
for dental or speech problems.
thumb-sucking may cause the teeth to become improperly aligned (malocclusion) or push the
This usually corrects itself when the child stops thumb-sucking. But
the longer thumb-sucking continues, the more likely it is that orthodontic
treatment will be needed.
Speech problems caused by thumb-sucking can include not being able to say Ts and
Ds, lisping, and thrusting out the tongue when talking.
When does a child need treatment for thumb-sucking?
experts recommend ignoring thumb-sucking in a child who is preschool age or
Children who suck their thumbs may need treatment when they:
- Continue to suck a thumb often
or with great intensity around age 4 or older. (A callus on the thumb is one sign of intense sucking.)
- Ask for help to
- Develop dental or speech problems as a result of
sucking their thumbs.
- Feel embarrassed or are teased or shamed by other
How is problem thumb-sucking treated?
Simple home treatment measures stop most children from sucking their thumbs. But if your child has a sucking habit around age 4 or older, schedule a visit with your child's doctor or dentist.
At home, treatment includes
parents setting rules and providing distractions. It may help to limit
the times and places that your child is allowed to suck his or her thumb and to
put away blankets or other items your child associates with thumb-sucking.
Putting gloves on your child's hands or wrapping the
thumb with an adhesive bandage or a cloth may help remind your child not to
suck the thumb.
Offering praise, positive attention, and rewards for not thumb-sucking may also help your child
break the habit. For example, put stickers on a
calendar each day that your child doesn't suck his or
her thumb. After an agreed-upon number of days, have a celebration for your
Don't shame or punish your child for thumb-sucking. This will only lower your child's self-esteem.
If home treatment doesn't work and you are concerned or feel frustrated about your child's thumb-sucking, talk with your child's doctor. There may be other treatment options, such as behavioral therapy, thumb devices, or devices for the mouth. But remember that thumb-sucking usually isn't a problem in children at preschool age or younger. Most children will stop on their own if you give them time.
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- Thumb-Sucking: Helping Your Child Stop
Learning about thumb-sucking:
- How can I help my child stop sucking his or her thumb?
- Is using a pacifier better or worse than thumb-sucking?
- What kind of routine dental care do young children need?
American Dental Association: Mouth Healthy www.mouthhealthy.org
- Growth and Development, Ages 1 to 12 Months
- Growth and Development, Ages 12 to 24 Months
- Growth and Development, Ages 2 to 5 Years
- Malocclusion and Orthodontics
Other Works Consulted
Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Pacifiers and thumb sucking. Available online: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/crying-colic/Pages/Pacifiers-and-Thumb-Sucking.aspx.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Behavior. In SP Shelov, RE Hannemann, eds., Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 4th ed., chap. 18, pp. 565–586. New York: Bantam.
Blum NJ (2009). Repetitive behaviors and tics. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 629–641. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Brazelton TB (2006). Touchpoints, Birth to Three: Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Christensen JR, et al. (2005). Oral habits. In JR Pinkham et al., eds., Pediatric Dentistry: Infancy Through Adolescence, 4th ed., pp. 431–439. St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders.
Ryan CA, et al. (2011). Habit and tic disorders. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 75–77. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Stein MT (2011). Difficult behavior. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph’s Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 335–338. New York: McGraw-Hill.