Methods to help children stop thumb sucking

A confession

Before listing six popular methods for helping children stop thumb sucking, I have a confession. My confession is not that our children sucked their thumbs before we designed our thumb guards. It is not that the sucking habits of both our children and our friend’s children inspired us to create our guards either. while both those statements are true, my confession is that although we tried many alternative options to help our children quit sucking, our initial reason for wanting them to stop had more to do with my gag reflex than their teeth.

Hyperemesis and the hyper gag reflex

During my pregnancy with my seventh child, I discovered that the usual enhanced sense of smell I had come to expect when expecting, was a little more enhanced than usual. I developed Hyperemesis and could not so much as cope with the smell of soap. The scent of my poor husband, fresh from the shower, would send me dashing to the toilet. The scent of my own shampooed hair did much the same. It took no more than the thought of saliva on my children’s hands to cause me to gag.

Add my gagging reflex to the sound of my child slurping on their soggy thumb and I was at my wit’s end. I tried everything I knew to persuade my child to stop thumb sucking. However, it seemed my habit of vomiting whenever my child approached for a cuddle, only served to enhance their need to self-comfort!  

To be honest it was only later, when I realized the damage my child’s sucking habit was causing to his teeth, that I was able to help him break his addiction. I had yet to design out thumb guards, but I had already learned one important fact. It is easier to help a child stop thumb sucking when you are working with the child, rather than against.

Why encourage your child to stop thumb sucking?

When it comes to thumb sucking and finger sucking, some children really do struggle to break their habit. Unfortunately, regular sucking has proven to be detrimental for growing mouths, particularly once adult teeth begin to cut through. Thumb and finger sucking put the sides of the jaw and the softer tissue at the roof of the mouth under pressure. This causes the upper jaw to narrow. A narrow jaw will prevent teeth from aligning correctly. This is a malocclusion.

Although malocclusion is correctable with braces, issues go beyond that of facial appearance and bite. For example; other problems, such as a lisp, often require therapy. Being bullied because of a thumb sucking habit leaves emotional scars. Many children with overbite also suffer from low self-esteem.

Encourage your preschool child to decrease their dependency on the thumb or fingers for comfort, in order to reduce the risks. This is more easily achieved when done before the habit becomes an addiction.

But how do you encourage a child to stop?

Contrary to popular belief it is not always easy to encourage a child to stop thumb sucking. Deeply concerned for their future health, many frustrated parents resort to literally pulling the thumb from their child’s mouth. Sadly the impact of this action is usually negative. The child often becomes upset and pops their thumb right back in again in order to self-comfort.

So what should you try?

At this stage you likely expect me to direct you straight to our thumb guard shop. However, not everyone has the finances to purchase guards. Whilst our thumb guards have proven successful, there are other options you can try.

Here are six popular methods for helping children stop thumb sucking;


Persuasion is more likely to work if your child is at least six years old. At this age, they are old enough to understand when you tell them what could happen to their teeth if their sucking continues. Older children might also respond to being shown pictures of children who have a malocclusion. Of course, these should be carefully selected before being introduced to your child. The idea is not to increase your child’s anxiety or give them nightmares.

Reward charts

Reward charts work best when used in conjunction with goal setting. The goals themselves should be set in achievable steps. For example, you could begin by offering a reward sticker if your child does not suck their thumb during their bedtime story. Introduce other times your child might turn to their thumb or finger sucking habit, one at a time.

I found it easier to set goals for day time activities. This meant I could monitor my children. It proved impractical to offer a reward for not sucking overnight. I did not have the energy to sacrifice my own sleep to sit watch by their beds. My clever children were quick to realise this and would fervently deny having sucked, knowing I could not prove otherwise.

Nail Paints

Although not generally any cheaper than purchasing thumb guards, try painting your child’s nails with one of the bitter tasting solutions sold by your chemist. These solutions are non –toxic and specifically designed to help children stop both thumbs sucking and nail-biting. They tend to be odourless but have an intensely bitter taste.

Admittedly the creation of super sour candy treats has done this polish a bit of a disservice. My children loved sour sweets and found the polish to taste delightful.

A thumb crib

A thumb crib is an appliance fitted by a dentist or orthodontist. The thumb crib is really a final resort for older children and teenagers who continue to struggle with their habit.  It involves fitting a metal grid behind the upper teeth. This acts as a physical deterrent to thumb and finger sucking.

What about socks or band-aids?

We do not recommend attaching band-aids to your children’s thumbs or fingers to prevent sucking. The concern is that they will suck the plaster. Once wet this could fall off in the mouth and pose a choking risk.

Some parents have found taping a sock over their child’s hand to be successful. I confess I have not tried this method with my own children. I could not cope with the idea that the sock, being taped on, would remain in place while my child used the toilet and then ate meals.

Thumb Guards and finger guards

The last on the list of our six popular methods for helping children stop thumb sucking is the thumb guard or finger guard. You can purchase a variety of different thumb guards and finger guards nowadays. Some are silicone or plastic, others are made of yarn or fabric. Ours is the latter.

Our guards are made from child-friendly fabrics and have a soft jersey lining. You can choose from a choice of three fastenings. The fastening options are a button, snap or Velcro. All our guards are machine washable. Remove guards when using the toilet and particularly messy activities.

We understand that for some parents the cost of thumb guards or finger guards really is an issue, particularly during challenging times such as unemployment or ill health. This can leave parents torn between struggling to afford guards and their concerns regarding future dental expenses.

As such, we have a variety of end of line guards in stock which we offer at sale prices regularly throughout the year. We are happy to make these available at other times on request.

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