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How can I stop my 5-year-old from sucking her thumb?

How can I stop my 5-year-old from sucking her thumb?

My daughter will be 5 in May and still sucks her thumb. We have tried everything from wearing a glove to store bought paint. She just takes off the glove or washes her hands.

Her teeth are starting to stick out - how can I get her to stop?

Greg Severson | Pediatrician

Greg Severson

This can be a tough issue to tackle, but not impossible. It will take time. I recommend a behavioral modification approach with rewards for not sucking the thumb and minor consequences for sucking the thumb. Thumbsucking is a habit - just like nail biting, using bad language - or even smoking for an older child.

Habits can be eliminated
To make a habit go away, one needs to stop rewarding unacceptable behavior, provide consequences for the behavior and nurture (reward) the absence of the behavior.

In order to eliminate unwanted behavior a parent must:

  1. Clearly explain what the behavior is in age-appropriate language.
  2. Explain why the habit should be eliminated.
  3. Increase the child's awareness of when she is doing the habit.
  4. Reward the child for successfully avoiding the behavior.


This will take time and patience 
It takes effort and time to change behavior. I do not recommend working on habits before 3-4 years of age because kids younger than this are unable to understand what you are asking them to do.

I recommend a method of changing unwanted behavior that uses a time every day where the parent and child work together. Immediate and visible rewards help reinforce the child's success. Mild consequences help the child become aware of doing the habit - and avoid it.

Read Dr. Severson's complete method of changing an unwanted behavior - including suggestions on what to say, and what to avoid saying.

Read more answers by Dr. Severson