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:
- Allow her to suck only at specified times during the day, ex. while watching television.
- 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.
- Reward System/Token Chart (positive reinforcement)
- 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.
- Consequence (negative reinforcement)
- 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.
- Keep both hands busy
- Engage her in activities that require the use of both hands, ex. dressing dolls, beads, looms.
- Yucky substance – Purchase a safe product from the drug store to apply to her thumb to prevent sucking.
- 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!