NZ Woman's Weekly

Helping your child break their thumb sucking habit

Dear Diane,
My son is seven and still sucks his thumb. I was a thumb sucker myself until around that age but you don’t seem to see it as often as you used to. I’m very conscious of it and worried about the fact he still does it. His father is really blunt with him and threatens to “chop it off”, which I think is mean. I’ve tried to discuss the fact that it might damage his teeth – although luckily they look fine to me. Ultimately though, I don’t want him to be teased by his friends and I think that might be what is happening. Do I just forget it (if I can!) and leave him to grow out of it, or is there something else we can be doing?

Jude, by email

Dear Jude,
Because thumb sucking provides such calming and reassurance, it is a very hard habit to give up and requires just the right mixture of fear and pleasure to take its place. If you are going to let him be and let the social consequences act as a deterrent, the best advice is to never mention it again – a very difficult way to go. The other difficult way is to use a mixture of strategies (“pleasure” and “pain”) to help him stay alert to his sneaky thumb which keeps tricking him by finding its way into his mouth. Every time he stops his thumb sneaking to his mouth he is entitled to come to you and claim a star on a star chart plus a jelly bean, gummy bear or some small sweet. Make a positive fuss. Be aware that for the first few days he will do this extremely frequently but that will taper off. Every time a parent catches him with his thumb in his mouth, he owes you five minutes (immediately) in his room. Offer him the support of some sort of “fiddly” toy to keep his thumb occupied when he is giving his thumb “sneaky opportunities” such as reading, watching TV or lying in bed. These strategies are a way of you and he conspiring together to outfox the sneaky thumb.

Diane Levy provides expert answers to your parenting queries. Send your questions to: Diane’s parenting books are available in book shops.


Subscribe to the magazine

Fergie’s found ‘The One’

Fergie's new man's secret past is revealed

New Zealand Woman's Weekly is the country's most-loved women's magazine, bringing a wide variety of news, stories, recipes and helpful hints to the home every week.

Subscribe now

Subscribe to our newsletters

Receive the latest celebrity news, recipes and beauty tips, delivered right to your inbox.