Bayo Ajibola

Thumb sucking  How to help your child stop the habit

Thumb sucking [the Yoruba people will call it ‘amukaa]’ can be a difficult habit for a child to break.  We as parents need to understand things we can do to help our child stop sucking his or her thumb.

All babies develop the urge to suck their thumb at a very early age. It is actually strongest as early as from 6 months. It is mostly their way of handling stress and giving comfort. It may even look really cute especially on the tiny babies but at some point the habit will have to go. It is just one of those things.

Some children outgrow the sucking and lose interest by around three years and all goes back to normal. Others may take a little longer but they stop eventually. It is not one of those scary habits that make you cringe from fear. There are instances that will need intervention though.

  •          If the child is really preoccupied with the sucking that they do it all day. It could cause problems with her teeth and mouth as she continues to grow in comparison to occasional sucking.
  •          If the child is almost six years because this is when permanent teeth begin to grow. It could cause ‘buck teeth’ due to the fingers pushing the teeth forward as they come out.
  •          If the sucking comes between her talking and playing.
  •          When the child is about to join preschool. They may easily get teased by classmates because of it and this may hurt their self esteem as they grow up. It could affect how they perceive school and peers as a whole.

Helping your child kick the habit is easier said than done. It will definitely come with a lot of resistance but you know it is not good for them so just gather enough courage and start the journey. Where and how to begin?

Talk to her not at her

It may seem easier to just tell your child to stop and assume that the story is over but it is not. This brings a little more resentment of you (since you want to get them away from their source of comfort) and since you will be adding a little more stress and change on their plate, the immediate urge will probably be to suck some more.

If the child is around five they can reason. Try and explain to them why they need to stop (and don’t let it be because Mommy says so). If they see the need to stop then they will be glad to do something good and positive, just like when they want to help making the cookies.

Offer some encouragement

A wounded ego still hurts at any age. Avoid poking holes into them and speak nice words instead. Congratulate them when they keep off sucking for a while. You can choose to point out that they didn’t do it in the drive to the mall and praise them for it. Anyone that receives accolades for something they have done always strives to do more.


If a child is at an age where reasoning may not really apply you can keep the child busy. If their hands are tied up doing something fun the likelihood is that the child will not put their thumb in the mouth. Once they get used to not having it inside their mouth it will cease to be a problem.

You can also try removing the thumb every time they put it in. Don’t cause a fuss about it or make lewd remarks. They should get the point at some point.


  •          Smear any bitter-tasting concoctions on the child’s thumb. They can easily just switch to another finger since they are available.
  •          Placing splints or elastic wraps on the baby’s elbows to restrict movement. It causes a lot of discomfort and may restrict blood flow thus causing other complications.


Bayo Ajibola

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