Weaning Thumb/Finger Sucking




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: http://www.nymetroparents.com/article/THUMBSUCKING-Beyond-the-Toddler-Years



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


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