Thumb & Finger Sucking Toddler

Children sucking their thumb or fingers is very common.  Babies have a natural rooting and sucking reflex.  This can cause thumb and finger sucking to occur even in the womb.  This habit can start before a child is even born.  Many children suck their fingers babies generally stop this habit between the age of 6 to 7 months.  Other children though finger and thumb sucking may come on later after the pacifier has been phased out or when they are trying to learn to self soothe in stressful situations.  In this case sometimes finger sucking doesn’t stop until between the ages of 2-4.  


Why do children suck their fingers?

Finger sucking is a habit.  Most habits just start on their own whether it is from boredom, practical reasons, or observation. Kids who are bored have more tendency to suck their fingers. Finger sucking for some children can be a way to entertain themselves.  They may have seen someone else sucking their fingers, either be curious or want to mimic that behavior. 

Some children have trouble with sensory processing.  A way for them to be able to handle a stressful, new, or exciting situation can be to chew or suck on their fingers.  This is because the act of sucking or chewing for these children is calming, soothing, and can help them focus on what is going on around them when they find themselves in a new situation.  


When does finger sucking end?

Usually habits such as sucking on fingers goes away on its own.  Children grow out of it, find other ways to self soothe on their own. 

Habits that start to get in the way of everyday activities, start to be embarrassing, or cause harm to your child is when a habit needs to start being addressed.  If your child is being picked on by other children because they are sucking on their fingers or thumb, it may be time to help them break their habit. 

If your child’s permanent teeth have started to come in then for their dental health you would want to help them stop this habit too.  Sucking and finger chewing can cause harm to your child’s teeth.  Long term finger sucking can cause abnormal tongue resting position, frontal lisp, and weakened tongue strength.  It can also cause a reduced tongue range of motion which can cause trouble with speech and feeding.  An open bite, where the top teeth and bottom teeth don’t come together, can also be caused by long term finger sucking.  This can cause trouble with biting, chewing, and speech.  


Tips For Helping Your Child End Finger Sucking

If the finger sucking doesn’t go away on it there are some things you can do to help your child. 

First is to start talking to your child.  Explain to them why they can’t keep finger sucking if they are at an age where you can help them understand.  If they are being made fun of because of the finger sucking they may be more opt to stopping the habit too. 

Start first with positive reinforcements.  Set small goals, praise your child when they don’t finger suck especially if it is during a time when they normally do.  Do a sticker reward chart. 

If your child finger sucks during stressful situations or new situations, help reassure them in other ways, giving them a hug, holding their hand, telling them it will be ok. 

Substitute the finger sucking with something else, like a stuffed animal to squeeze, or a small blanket to hold onto. 

Find what triggers your child into wanting to finger suck so you can either avoid the triggers, or teach them other ways to manage their stress and anxiety. 

Try not to scold, criticize, or ridicule your child for finger sucking.  If you notice them sucking their fingers, gently remind them not to.  Too much pressure to stop can cause the habit to become worse.  It will put too much stress around the situation causing them to do it more. 

Sometimes having your child’s doctor or dentist speak to them instead of mom and dad can help.  This has the information of why they need to stop coming from a different source, and may make it easier for your child to hear. 

There are special mouth guards you can get for your child to help protect their teeth. 

There are also bad tasting sprays you can put on your child’s fingers and thumb to ward off the want to suck them. 

Having your child wear gloves can also help deter them from wanting to suck their fingers.  This can be an option for children who may suck their thumb or fingers at night without consciously knowing they are.  


READ MORE:  Tips To Help Your Child Develop Good Dental Hygiene


Finger sucking is a normal way babies learn to soothe themselves.  Some babies start to suck their fingers in the womb.  It is a very common habit for little kids to have.  Usually it goes away between the ages of 2 and 4.  In cases where it isn’t, some intervention may be necessary so there aren’t lasting complications such as tongue weakness, or an open bite which could cause trouble with chewing, eating, and speech. 

If your child already has speech problems from long term finger sucking you may need to find a speech therapist who will be able to work with your child to help correct any speech problems they have.  Figure out what triggers your child to finger suck and help them soothe in other ways, such as carrying around a small stuffed animal to squeeze.  Be calm and patient when trying to break this habit.  Putting too much pressure and stress may cause a delay.  


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