Some parents become concerned when an infant or young child sucks their thumb, fingers or a pacifier that it could develop into a habit that will be difficult to break. There is no need to worry though, these habits are innate to children at birth and are very common. They have a soothing and calming effect on a child and some children suck their thumb while still in the womb.

Most children will stop sucking their thumbs and/or fingers by the age of 6 or 8, and if they do not stop on their own typically friends or siblings will tease the child which will get them to stop.

The one thing you want to keep an eye on with finger or thumb sucking is if it begins to affect a child’s teeth or mouth. If you are concerned that it could be affecting their mouth or teeth consult with your pediatrician or a pediatric dentist.

Many parents have strong feelings against using pacifiers because they do not like the idea of pacifying a baby or they believe it could harm the child. Pacifiers do not cause medical or psychological problems, so you do not need to worry about that. What you do want to ensure though is that a pacifier is not used to replace a meal. Since a pacifier creates a soothing effect on a child it can be useful to calm them in between meals, but it should never be used to replace a feeding.

When attempting to help your child stop sucking a pacifier or their thumb or fingers keep in mind the following tips:

  • Try to ignore the habit, and not bring attention to it, most of the time the child will stop it on their own
  • Do not punish your child for doing it, or use harsh words or teasing. This may upset your child and the habit could get worse
  • Sometimes a child does not even realize they are doing it, and it may be a sign of boredom. If you see them starting to do it,  distract them and get them focused on doing something to relieve their boredom
  • Praise and reward your child when they do not suck their thumb, fingers or a pacifier. Reinforcing the desired behavior is a great way to produce a change
  • If you are still having difficulty changing their behavior consult your pediatrician, but involve your child in choosing the treatment

*Above Information provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics