Monday, July 25, 2011

Weaning Thumb/Finger Sucking

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On Becoming Toddlerwise has some information on weaning from thumb and finger sucking. They stress the importance of substitution. Substitution is when you use something in place of the undesirable action. Your child sucks thumb/finger out of a need for self-soothing, so when you are working to stop or slow down the behavior, you want to find a replacement activity. You want to keep your child's hands busy. This might be with "...a soft blanket or stuffed animal to hold instead" (page 161).

Okay, so step one was to find a substitute when soothing is needed.

But children will also suck purely out of habit. It can be mindless, but not in need of actual comfort. The child might be bored or might not be thinking anything about it at all. You can help minimize this by not allowing sucking to happen outside the bedroom at a certain age. 6 months is a good idea, and easy to do. Give a 6 month old something to play with and she will not be worried about sucking. As they get older, you just remind them that they may not suck unless they are in bed. 

I have an exception to this, however, and that is if a child is hurt or overly tired, I allow it. This is allowing for flexibility in the context of the situation.

Let's review the three basic rules:
  1. Provide a substitute for soothing. This is something to do when you are trying to eliminate sucking, and probably something to do closer to age two.
  2. Give the child something to do to keep hands busy and out of the mouth.
  3. Remind child to take finger/thumb out.
Something we have used with great success is a simple band aid. We put it on the finger and it helps remind the child to not suck. 

Learning to not suck on something for soothing is something that takes time. Think of it as a slow process. Stay in contact with a pediatric dentist if you are concerned. The dentist can tell you if permanent damage is being done or not. Most don't worry about it until after age four (some say three). Start limiting sucking out of bed around 6 months old. From that point, work toward eliminating sucking altogether.

For more information for preschoolers and older, I found this helpful article:

Oh the thumb-sucker’s thumb
May look wrinkled and wet
And withered, and white as the snow, 
But the taste of a thumb
Is the sweetest taste yet
(As only we thumb-suckers know).
Shel Silverstein


Kristin said...

My DD never sucked her thumb/fingers or used a pacifier for that matter. My mom suggested that she thought my DD's sucking/oral needs were being met by being fed regularly - thanks to Babywise. I've often wondered if BW babies were less prone to thumb/paci sucking due to this or if it's just an every baby's different thing? I know my DD also didn't put everything in her mouth like most babies, so I think the lack of thumb sucking is mainly just her. Regardless, it's one less thing to wean, which is nice!

Plowmanators said...

That is nice Kristin! That would be an interesting poll. I will add that to my list of polls to do.

Kaitlyn sucks fingers; McKenna thumb. Brayden did blanket, but he was easy to wean. He also wasn't a big "mouther." McKenna wasn't a big mouther, either, and I don't see her being as attached to her thumb as Kaitlyn was to the fingers. Kaitlyn was a HUGE mouther and loved those fingers. She still loves them, but I have them banished to her bed for the most part :) It might be an effort to stop bedtime sucking.

Becca said...

A substitute probably works for most kids, but our two yr old only sucks her thumb when she has her lovie. I guess in our case we have to do the opposite and limit the use of her teddy to make her stop sucking. She gets really angry when I try to limit it so it's not easy...

Plowmanators said...

Thanks for that Becca! That is something I haven't ever heard of so thanks for pointing that out.

Angie said...

My daughter is the same way, she's almost 3 and only sucks her thumb when she has her lovie (a bunny named Bubba). She grabs Bubba's ear and the thumb of that same hand enters her mouth. I am certain she doesn't think of it, it just happens. She never sucks her thumb at any other time, only with Bubba. Bubba spends his days in the top of the closet (so she won't suck her thumb during room time) and only comes down for naps and nighttime sleep. I'm sure someday I'll have to take Bubba away but not today.

Plowmanators said...

Very interesting Angie! Thanks for sharing your experience, also.

Michael and Yvonne said...

DD1 was a thumbsucker and we did BW since 4 weeks so I persoonally think it's just a personality thing....some LO's love it and others never develop it. DD2 never got into it! DD1 is 4 and does it subconsciously in her sleep and I'm not sure what to do about it. I'm going to discuss it at her next dental appointment. I read in the link about thumb guards,etc.

Kristina H. said...

Oh this is a great topic! I have 4 kiddos and only 1 (now age 5) ever sucked fingers...and she still sucks them today! I was never a fan of thumbs or pacifiers, but I did try to give a pacifier to my oldest on our first night home from the hospital...he never took it and proceeded to scream for 6 months (LOL...colicky baby!) My 5 yr old (who still sucks 2 fingers in the car, while watching tv and when going to sleep) self-soothed and it was such a beautiful thing! Trying to break the habit now is very difficult though.

Camilla said...

As I read your article, I too was wondering what to do with children who suck their thumb only when they have their lovey. Both my son (age 3 and 2 months) and daughter (age 17 months) suck their thumb but only in bed when they have their blanket. I don't allow their blanket outside of bedtime/naptime. They do not go to sleep well when they don't have their blanket. They never self-soothe without their blanket. My guess is (no experience and not planning on it anytime soon) is that I just have to take away their blanket and they should stopped thumb-sucking. I hope that's true!

Sarah said...

I am enjoying your blog! My daughter is 8.5 months and is a 2 finger sucker. We've used BW with her from the beginning. Around the time she started sleeping through the night, she transitioned from a pacifier to her fingers. I think her finger sucking is calming/self-soothing and will likely be hard to curb. Thanks for the tips!

mminges said...

I am with Becca on this one. My son only sucks his thumb when he has a stuffed animal or some kind of blanket-even just the throw blanket on our living room ottoman triggers the thumb sucking! I have even caught him putting his thumb in his mouth when he pets the dog! lol It seems like touching anything soft triggers an urge to suck. What to do? He is only 10 1/2 months old and hasn't wanted a paci since about 3-4 months. We have done BabyWise since about 8-10 weeks of age.

Plowmanators said...

Thanks everyone for your thoughts!

mminges, just focus on not allowing it during waketime.

David and Kate said...


My son is 3 (almost four) and we have used the fingerguard and have had success. He can now fall asleep and stay asleep without sucking. However, if he has his lovey nearby and we have not put on the fingerguard, he will suck. Some good friends of ours have had the same issue so they took away the lovey and the sucking stopped. But be prepared, it is like CIO all over again!

Plowmanators said...

Thanks and David and Kate!

Melissa said...

My daughter is 16mo and has been BW all along. Somehow I missed the 6mo partial weaning part though. She sucks her thumb when tired, when bored, when in a new situation, while reading or learning about anything. I am hesitant to wean her but there are times when it is getting to be too much. She does have a lovey that we only do at bedtime. Should I allow the lovey during the day to help wean the thumb?? Thanks!

McMom said...

I LOVE your blog. THANK YOU!!! I recommend it to all my Babywise friends! My son is 5.5 months and is just starting to teeth (first tooth broke through yesterday). He is doing a lot of sucking and/or chewing, but I'm not sure which is which. I'm terrified of him becoming a thumb sucker (like I was) but once I start discouraging sucking outside the bedroom in a few weeks, I don't want to keep him from chewing and relieving his gums. It all sounds like sucking to me. Any tips on how to be sure which is which?

Also, we recently blacked out his room completely, which has solved an early morning wake up problem we were having. However, now he is waking early from his morning nap (4 days in a row now). The other two naps are still fine. Could it be he needs more daytime awake time to compensate for the time he is not up early anymore?

Our schedule:
7:00 wake and nurse
8:30-10:00 nap (ideally)
11:00 nurse
12-1:45 nap
2:30 nurse
3:45-4:30 nap
6:00 nurse
6:45 bed
9:00 nurse and back to bed

Thank you in advance so much for your thoughts. I don't know how you find the time, but I'm glad that you do!

Kayla W said...

I love and appreciate your blog immensely. I have a 2 year old (28 mo.) and 3 mo. old and I used 'babywise' from the start with both of them and they have been great sleepers. I have followed the other '-wise' books as well.

My little guy (2 year old) is a thumb sucker. We were on top of things when he was younger and so he only sucks his thumb for naps and bedtime. I was feeling pressured to stop his habit so it would not interfere with the development of his mouth. We have been at it for 9 weeks and it is still a struggle! We went cold turkey and taped his thumb - it was like crying it out. After 2 weeks of the poor guy becoming more and more sleep deprived I gave up and let him suck his thumb for naps. He seems to fall asleep a little easier without his thumb at bedtime - likely more tired, however it is still a battle and our once amazing sleeper now takes a minimum of an hour to get to bed. We have tried adjusting the time of his bedtime, he now gets out of bed and is up to no good in his room and won't listen (normally a great listener) so we have put him in his crib as he is not coping with the freedom of his big boy bed.

I recognize there are many variables - just had a new baby so may be in a period of adjustment, 2 year old sleep repgression, etc...

I guess my question is if there is any advice to stopping the thumb-sucking when it is just at bedtime. Have some kids just outgrown the habit or would it be more effective when they are older and can understand better? I just need help! lol.


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