Why You Should Encourage Thumb/Finger Sucking

Why You Should Encourage Thumb/Finger Sucking. The benefits of thumb sucking or finger sucking and how you can prevent it from being a problem.

Child sucking fingers

In the book Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, Tracy Hogg talks about thumb (or finger) sucking. She says it is “…an important form of oral stimulation and self-soothing behavior” (page 127). Hogg believes thumb sucking is something we should encourage. She says, “Remember that this is one of the first ways in which your infant gains control over his body and his emotions” (page 127). It gives your child a sense of control and accomplishment. A wonderful thing about this is that it is controlled by the baby rather than “big people.” She assures that baby will give it up when she is ready to.

Kaitlyn, my second child, sucks her index and middle finger. She is 15 months old and I have never found it to be a problem. 90% of the time she only sucks on them when she is in her bed. The rest of the time she sucks on them when she is overly tired (like at church and she misses a nap), when she has gotten hurt, when she has been told no and really wants to do whatever it is, and when she feels uncomfortable or nervous (like around strange new people who are in her face).

As suggested in On Becoming Babywise, starting at 6 months I started removing her fingers from her mouth during her waketime. At first I would only do it if she was sucking and was otherwise okay. It was rarely a problem because she uses her hands to play and she prefers playing to sucking on her fingers. At the younger age, I allowed some finger sucking if I thought she really needed it at the moment.

Now at 15 months, there are still times I allow it. I take it in the context of the situation. For each situation I allow it, take note that she doesn’t always do it in those situations.

I will allow her to suck on her fingers at church. She is tired and by sucking on her fingers, she keeps herself calm and quiet. You have to remember she is not in a nursery yet, so she is in with the adults for Sunday School and in with either my husband or me as we teach the youth. At that time, I am more concerned with her being quiet than her sucking on her fingers. But I only allow it later in the church time, and definitely not within the first hour (her nap normally starts about an hour into church time).

If she has gotten hurt somehow, I also allow her to suck on her fingers still. She does it for a short time and only until she is calm, then she is ready to play again, so it hasn’t become an issue. Again, every times she gets hurt, she doesn’t suck her fingers. Just yesterday she fell and bumped her head. She criend, but never sucked her fingers.

If she has been told no, she sometimes sticks her fingers in her mouth (if she is really upset about being told no). In this case I also allow it. She does it long enough to gain her composure then she moves on. I find this an acceptable way for her to not throw a fit at her age. She does it for less than a minute, and she doesn’t do it every time she gets told no, so I have not found it to be a problem.

When she is feeling uncomfortable or nervous, I hold her and take her fingers out of her mouth. I tell her “you don’t need your fingers.” I am offering her myself for comfort and she always finds the instruction to remove her fingers to be humorous. That usually gets her giggling and she forgets all about the nervousness she feels.

There is the rare occasion she puts her fingers in her mouth for apparently no reason. I can tell her from across the room, “you don’t need your fingers, take them out of your mouth” and she will.

One thing I would watch out for (and this is in general for anything your child might be attached to) is around the age of 9-11 months. Both of my kids seemed to start to form an emotional bond to things at that age. For Brayden, it was a blanket. For Kaitlyn, it was her fingers. You have to really watch them at that age and stop them from forming a strong habit to this emotional item.

Read more about this in Secrets of a Baby Whisperer (affiliate link)

If your child sucks a finger or thumb and you need help weaning, read my post on Weaning from Finger/Thumb Sucking here.

Reader Thanks/Comments/Questions/Tips:

  • Kelly said…
    Great post! One of my twins sucks her thumb when she is tired or hungry (she is 6 months). I don’t mind her sucking her thumb either as I see it as a sign of something. However, I am
    Why You Should Encourage Thumb/Finger Sucking. The benefits of thumb sucking or finger sucking and how you can prevent it from being a problem.

    having a hard time feeding her as every time I put a spoon in her mouth she puts her thumb in there as well. Right now I am trying to hold her hand down to not allow this as not only is thumb not necessary in this situation but it is MESSY!!! Food is everywhere as she is taking food out of her mouth while she is sucking her thumb. Do you have any more suggestions on how to get controller over this or as to why she is doing this?
    August 8, 2008 9:46 AM
    The Traveling Turtle said…
    My little one started that habit as well for a short while. In BWII they say to say “hands down please” or something to that effect. So when she starts to put her hands in her mouth, I just have to take them out and sometimes I even have to hold them down for a short bit until she stops trying to do it again. She also used to try and do this while she was taking her bottle and I would have to do the same thing. If you are consistant in doing that, I think children will learn over time. Keep up the good work!
    August 8, 2008 11:45 AM
    Plowmanators said…
    Thanks Traveling Turtle…good tips!
    August 9, 2008 10:16 AM
    bethers21 said…
    My 7 month old son is doing the same thing. Many times he puts his thumb in when he is actually ready for another bite of food. I think he just wants something in his mouth, not really caring what. I’m doing the same “hands down” over and over. Sometimes I forget to say please 🙂 Another thing BWII suggests is putting their hands under the tray. I did that for awhile but want to teach him sign language now. I know it will pay off to be consistent in pulling his hands down but I’m still covered in food every night, too!Great post, Val!
    August 8, 2008 11:51 AM
    Plowmanators said…
    Thanks for your points, too, bethers!
    August 9, 2008 10:16 AM
    Plowmanators said…
    Kelly,See this post: Baby Highchair Manners:  Also, this is a situation for consistency. I had the same issue with Kaitlyn. You have to just gently put their hands down and tell them “no fingers in your mouth while you are eating.” You will have to do this over and over. Remain patient and consistent and she will get it. Remember it is all training.
    August 9, 2008 10:15 AM

  • Ashley said…
    Just curious why you would suggest not to let children get attached to a transitional object? I see it as very healthy and normal and as long as there is balance, I see no problem with it.
    August 8, 2008 6:18 PM
    Plowmanators said…
    Ashley, I am not sure what you mean by transitional object. If you are referring to the last paragraph in the post, let me elaborate.Up until 9-10 months of age, both of my kids had their sucking things they did for comfort, but really only used those things for comfort. Like I said, for Brayden, a blanket, and for Kaitlyn, her fingers. Around 9-10 months, they started turning to those things out of habit rather than need. I didn’t notice that soon enough with Brayden, and we had a real blanket addict on our hands. With Kaitlyn, I was more in tune with the situation and have avoided her becoming habitually dependent on her fingers. She uses them when she needs them rather than when she wants and needs them. Like I said, I allow it when I see it as a need, and prevent it when I see it as something she is doing out of boredom. I hope that clarifies.
    August 9, 2008 10:20 AM
  • LEM said…
    My 3-month old has discovered his hands and has decided that sucking his fist is fun. Is this something I should try and stop now? He does this pretty consitently when awake. I’m sure he would do it when put down to sleep but he is swaddled.
    August 17, 2008 9:55 PM
    Plowmanators said…
    I personally wouldn’t stop it. But I prefer fingers/thumb/fist to pacifier.
    August 17, 2008 11:30 PM
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg