Thumb-Sucking In School Aged Children

By: Rosa M. Henshaw, M.A.

In the earlier months of life, a dependency on sucking is common as the baby has an innate instinct to suck so he/she can feed. The repetitive  motion of the mouth provides a sense of calming. Thumb sucking or using a pacifier helps the child with self-control and self-soothing.

Dentists strongly encourage parents to help their 5 to 10 year-old child to stop sucking their thumb. A Finger-sucking habit might affect the teeth positioning as the permanent teeth start erupting during those years. When teeth are crowded, crooked, or out of alignment, called malocclusions, it can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

Many of these older children suck their thumb only for comfort, at bedtime, during transitions, or stressful times. There is no physical evidence that minor thumb sucking is harmful to tooth growth, as the alignment has to do with the child's genetics or the size of their jaw. On the other hand, tongue thrusting seems to affect tooth alignment. This movement of the tongue pushes consistently on the upper palate. This usually does not occur during finger sucking.

Socially, finger sucking will be a burden for the older child. He will notice how other children do not suck their thumbs and could affect his self-esteem. He will soon learn that it is not socially acceptable which might help out in decreasing finger sucking until he is ready to stop. Sometimes the child experiences separation anxiety when away from parents. In this case, spending a little more time with the child and reviewing the daily routine with him every morning, might help relieve the anxiety.

Eventually, the older child will stop sucking her fingers. It should not become a battle of wills. Instead, allow the child to choose when she is ready to stop.

Now, if the child is a chronic thumb sucker (all of the time), then there are other ideas to guide parents with ways to help stop this habit. I looked up recent articles, spoke with a language therapist, consulted Douglas County Child Find, and gathered general tips to get you started:

Start Early

Reward Program (5-9 year-olds)

Remove the Pleasure of Sucking

Other Suggestions

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