Did you know that it is completely normal for babies and young children to suck their thumb, fingers, or pacifier? Sucking is a natural reflex that provides security and contentment and is a way for young babies to learn about their world. Some even begin sucking on their fingers before they are born.
When should children stop using a pacifier or sucking their thumb?
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), most children stop sucking their thumbs and using pacifiers on their own between two and four years of age. However, some children continue until they are older. Over time, pacifiers and thumb sucking can increase the risk of dental complications and cause jaw misalignment, tooth decay, roof narrowing, slanting teeth, and mouth sores.
As children grow and mature, they develop new ways to self-soothe, relax, and entertain themselves. But, some children need the help of their parents and their pediatric dentist to stop their sucking habits.
How can you help your child stop using a pacifier or sucking their thumb?
When your child is old enough to understand the possible results of a sucking habit, try doing one or more of the following:
- Encourage your child to choose other self-soothing alternatives to sucking, like singing a song, holding a stuffed toy, or looking at books.
- Use patience, stretching, and breathing techniques every day to help your child learn to calm their worries and delay desires without sucking.
- Make sure your child is aware when they are sucking their thumb. Ask them, “Do you realize you’re sucking your thumb right now?”
- Limit pacifier use to certain situations like sleep or stressful times when your little one needs calming.
- Talk with your child about being old enough to stop, just like the “big kids.”
- Gradually withhold the pacifier for longer periods of time.
- Discuss together when to give the pacifier away. You might choose a special day, like a holiday or birthday.
- Try a special nail polish that tastes bitter.
If your child has difficulty breaking the habit even with rewards and encouragement, talk to us. We can offer additional options and advice to help kids break the habit.
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