My 6 year-old still Sucks her Thumb

by Sharon Weisz
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Your concern is certainly warranted. While most children kick the habit by age 5, some need a bit of help to stop. It is important to intervene at this age as her adult teeth may be coming in and prolonged thumb-sucking can affect the growth of the jaw, causing a high arch on the roof of the mouth, as well as an overbite and ‘buck teeth’. This can affect her speech and physical appearance.

 

Here are a few tips to stop the thumb-sucking:

  1. Bit-by-bit 
    1. Allow her to suck only at specified times during the day, ex. while watching television.
    2. Allow her to suck for a predetermined amount of time. Use an oven timer and start on day 1 for 20 minutes, day 2 for 10 minutes, and so on to gradually reduce the amount of time.
  2. Reward System/Token Chart (positive reinforcement)
    1. You can play a game whereby you ‘catch her’ with her thumb OUT of her mouth. She can earn points, stamps, or tokens for these moments. Once she earns 10 points, she can choose a small dollar store prize or treat.
  3. Consequence (negative reinforcement)
    1. She must pay into the pot each time you catch her with her thumb in her mouth. After 10 coins have gone into the pot, she loses a privilege, ex. 10 minutes of screen time.
  4. Keep both hands busy
    1. Engage her in activities that require the use of both hands, ex. dressing dolls, beads, looms.
  5. Yucky substance – Purchase a safe product from the drug store to apply to her thumb to prevent sucking.
  6. Mouth device – Talk to your dentist about devices that can be placed on the roof of the mouth that prevent the thumb from fitting ever-so-nicely into the mouth.

 

Whichever method you choose, be sure not to ridicule your child for her habit. It is difficult for both children and adults to break bad habits!

 

 

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