CHECK-UP: I want my daughter to stop sucking her finger

September 10, 2018

Dana asks Check Up how she can get her five-year-old daughter to stop sucking her finger. She says her daughter sucked her thumb from in the womb, as ultrasound tests had shown during her pregnancy.

Dana, at age five, we can probably watch the situation for a little longer, while encouraging and coaxing the child to give up this habit. It will require some patience. Most thumb suckers use the thumb as a pacifier when bored or tired or for comfort, and children younger than age five should not be pressured to stop. At this early stage, thumb sucking does not indicate any emotional problems. One in five children still suck their finger after their fifth birthday.

But thumb sucking can lead to dental problems with 'over bite' and even speech problems, so at some point the thumb sucking has to be addressed. Thumb sucking can also cause calluses on the skin and fingernail infections.

If your child only sucks her finger at home, at bedtime, or in front of family, then the problem is really not so bad. Don't nag the child or pull her finger out of her mouth, as this can result in a power struggle. Instead, make the child a willing participant in stopping the sucking by putting a reward system in place. Give her stickers for no-thumb sucking and reward her with a prize after she has achieved an agreed-on number of stickers.

Offer a bigger prize for going one week without thumb sucking and a large prize when she achieves one month free of thumb-sucking. Place a bitter-tasting liquid on the thumb nail, particularly at night-time (spray perfume on it). Cover the hands with cotton gloves at nights. Sometimes additional help is needed and the dentist can offer a mouth appliance which prevents finger sucking.

If the child is really resistant to treatment and another year or two passes and the problem persists, then maybe your daughter does have some deeper emotional issues which need to come to light. At this point, seeing a doctor becomes a good idea. But you're not there yet! Don't worry!

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