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How to Stop Thumb Sucking

Breaking the thumb-sucking habit in children can be a challenging and daunting task for parents in the UK and around the world.



Not only can thumb sucking be a source of embarrassment for children, but it can also have negative impacts on their dental health and self-esteem. According to the British Orthodontic Society, thumb sucking can cause misalignment of teeth and lead to the development of an abnormal bite. Additionally, a survey conducted by the British Dental Health Foundation found that one in four children in the UK suck their thumbs or fingers, with the habit often continuing into early adulthood. This can cause social anxiety and lower self-esteem for children. As a parent, it can be frustrating to see your child continue this habit despite your best efforts. However, with the right strategies and support, it is possible to help your child break the thumb-sucking habit and promote their overall health and well-being. We believe Thumbsie® can play a big role in helping children quit thumb sucking for good.

But don’t just take our word for it. See how three dentists describe the problems which could be associated with thumb sucking and why they think you should try and help your child to stop digit sucking. We’re thrilled that the dental profession has recognised how valuable Thumbsies® are in breaking the frustrating thumb sucking habit.

Here are our top 10 tips on how to stop thumb sucking;

    1. Rewards and positive enforcement – Encourage your child to stop and remember to reward them – any little step is an important one and should be rewarded. Give them lots of praise. Children thrive on praise and encouragement, so give them plenty!
    2. Identifying triggers – Take notice of when they are sucking and try to keep them busy during these times. There are a wide range of potential triggers, but they broadly fall into a few key categories: tiredness, stress, anxiety, hunger, boredom and routine.
    3. Disassociation – If they associate their thumb sucking habit with a favourite toy or a muslin/comforter, then try to only allow them this at sleep times or just when they are in bed. Difficult we know, but disassociating with it really can help during the day. Breaking a habit like thumb sucking can be as much about psychological change as physical change.
    4. Dealing with setbacks – Don’t shout but remind them that they are sucking their thumb. All too often they don’t know that they are doing it. It’s a good idea to come up with a code word so you are not always saying “stop sucking your thumb!”. Above all, remain positive and keep going.
    5. Communication – Try and talk to your child about it, show them pictures on the internet of children wearing braces and of “open bite” teeth. One lady wrote to us saying that just showing her daughter these pictures was enough for her to stop sucking her thumb – amazing! But also ensure that your child knows you are not angry with them. While you may be frustrated with their habit, you are there to support your child and you will break the habit as a family.
    6. Offering alternatives – Offer them help to stop and let them know that you understand that it’s difficult. Some parents try plasters, nail polish, dummies and other methods. But in many cases, these practices don’t work. This is where a Thumbsie® fabric thumb guard can help.
    7. Engage them – If you decide to buy a Thumbsie® get your child to look at the patterns on the website and get them to choose the fabrics that they would like. We have so many different designs. We can guarantee there will be something for your child, whether that be sport, flowers, robots or stars, if not get in touch!
      Little girl wearing two Thumbsie thumb guards
      Anthea wearing her Thumbsise®
    8. Consistency is key – We can’t stress enough how important it is that you need to be consistent. Like all things with children, they need to know their boundaries. We have found that parents get better results if they tackle the night times in the same way as during the day and if all the family are onboard.
    9. Comfort – To ensure that they wear their Thumbsie® all the time, it helps if it fits properly. It’s great if they don’t even know they have it on and can carry on with their normal activities. Thumbsies® are designed to be worn during the day and night. Children can write when wearing them, read and, of course – play!
    10. Work together – Engage with your child’s schoolteachers – it would be good if they supported you. Some schools even spread the word to other parents about the use of a Thumbsie®. Remember to also tell grandparents and other family members that you are trying to break your child’s thumb sucking habit. They will be able to ensure that the same rules apply when they are providing childcare.

Don’t just take our word for it see how three dentists describe the problems could be associated with thumb sucking and why they think you should try and help your child to stop digit sucking.

Dinosaur Thumbsie® Thumb Guard
Dinosaur Thumbsie® Thumb Guard
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Jo’s story

Jo Bates, founder of Thumbsie®, has often shared her personal thoughts on how to help your child stop thumb sucking. She doesn’t tackle this issue in an academic sense, but as just a mum who has had a child that sucked their thumb and has made many Thumbsie® fabric thumb guards over the past ten years to help other children. As a product, Thumbsie® has gone on to win many awards for innovation as well as being recognised by the Oral health Foundation as an approved product to help with thumb sucking.

Speaking about her family’s own story, Jo has said: “We took Isabel’s dummy away at the age of 3 and thought that she would be fine and no longer need to suck, just as her sisters had done – but unfortunately, she started to thumb suck instead and it became a real habit!

“We had considered all the other products out there: nasty tasting nail polish, plasters and even the expensive plastic thumb guards but none of them appealed.

“I created a fabric thumb sucking glove from some fabric that Isabel chose. This was the only thing that worked for Isabel and our lives have all been happier since.

“Within three weeks she had managed to stop thumb sucking during the day and two weeks later was ready to go to bed without wearing them.”

Becoming a problem

Thumb sucking is such a hard habit for children to break. When our children first start, many of us think it’s cute. Some of us are relieved that our children can settle themselves in the middle of the night when they awake. Others just think they will grow out of it when they get to school. It’s one of those things that we keep putting off as we know it’s going to be difficult and stressful to try and stop.

Jo has read that many children stop sucking naturally at the age of four or five, which is great if they do. All too soon, however, we start to worry about the risks, about the potential damage that it’s doing to our children’s teeth, we get a ticking off from the dentist and then we want to find a way for them to give up this thumb sucking habit.

What may start as an innocent habit as a baby can become more serious as the child ages. If your child is still sucking their thumb beyond the age of seven, things can be especially concerning. There is evidence that prolonged thumb sucking can lead to issues with tooth and jaw development and can cause overbites and general overcrowding of teeth.

The psychology behind thumb sucking is relatively simple. The habit is typically a soothing mechanism that provides security and comfort, like being in a mother’s womb. Once the child starts to associate thumb sucking with anxiety relief and comfort, then it gradually becomes a learned behaviour which is hard to break. The NHS recommends avoiding the use of dummies for all children over 12 months old. Common methods for helping a child stop thumb sucking are encouragement, a rewards system or even the intervention of a medical professional such as a dentist.

Some children end up with chapped or cracked skin around the thumb which can be very painful, others start to twirl their hair to the point that it falls out. It’s so hard for the children, especially if they’ve been sucking for a long time. It’s their comforter, their soul mate and we want to take it away! But there are solutions – and Thumbsie® is one of them.

Boy wearing two thumbsie thumb guards

Nate age 3

Trying a Thumbsie®

We had a lovely email from a mum that summed up everything that we really want to say. It’s Happy Customers like this that make us want to keep on making Thumbsies®.

“I would just like to thank you so much for the success we have had with the Thumbsies! My daughter Sophie (age 6) has not sucked her thumb for 29 days now and says that she never wants to suck her thumb again. Our dentist told us that her thumb sucking was preventing her teeth from coming through so we had to do something.

Sophie loved choosing the designs and they have lasted so well with repeated washing! The reward chart was great and we will continue until we have filled the whole chart with stickers. Loads of friends, her teacher and extended family have commented on how great they are – I wish they had been around when I was young!” Katie

We also have a lovely video of children talking about giving up thumb-sucking with the help of our Thumbsies® Thumb guards.

Its so important to look after your children’s oral health. We hope that this has given you ideas on how to help kick the thumb sucking habit and that you decide that Thumbsie® will help you as a family. It’s a great feeling when they break the habit!

Frequently Asked Questions

At Thumbsie® we take the personal approach. There’s nothing worse than trying to deal with a company who don’t respond to queries or are difficult to get hold of. We appreciate that parents often have very specific questions about their child’s thumb sucking, and we’ll always be here to answer those questions.

But we also know that there are some questions which are asked more frequently than others. And nothing gives us more joy than helping a worried mum or dad find the answer they are looking for. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions – and our answers:

Q. Why do children suck their thumbs?

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex which typically starts in the womb. It is a soothing mechanism for a child, helping them feel safe and secure. Once they are born, a child may continue to suck their thumbs for a variety of reasons: comfort, security, a way to stop anxiety, or just simply as a matter of routine. The majority of children will stop sucking their thumbs without the need of any help, usually around the age of four or five. Thumb sucking typically only has cause for concern if it is constant and shows no sign of stopping. Research has shown that as many as one in eight children aged between 7 and 11 still suck their thumbs, potentially leading to long-term damage.

Q. Have I done anything wrong?

Absolutely not. Some parents do blame themselves, but there is no reason to at all. As mentioned, thumb sucking is a natural reflex and common among very small children. It can be incredibly difficult to wean a child of any type of behaviour. Our founder, Jo, knows firsthand the challenges of getting a young child to stop thumb sucking; in fact, that’s why she started Thumbsie® in the first place! There is never any judgement of parents or parenting styles at Thumbsie®. Many of our team have been through similar challenges – and we are here to help!

Q. What are the most common triggers?

Triggers for children who thumb suck can include stress, anxiety, boredom, routine or hunger. In some cases, a child may be anxious about a big life change such as starting school, moving house or having a new sibling. In those cases, thumb sucking offers a sense of security during a tricky time. At other times, thumb sucking can be due to boredom – it may be a way to pass the time – or due simply to habit, as the child has done it so often it becomes almost a compulsion. In terms of hunger, children become used to the sucking action used in breastfeeding and can be seen to be recreating that at times of hunger. The most important thing for any parent whose child is thumb sucking is to identify their specific trigger or triggers. For this, communication is key. Speak with your child and others who know them well: grandparents and teachers, for example. You should be able to get to the bottom of why they feel the need to suck their thumb.

Q. Do rewards actually work?

They really do! And it’s not just us at Thumbsie® who believe this. There is a large body of scientific evidence, too. The Center for Disease Control, a leading US Government health organisation, says:

“The way you respond right after your child’s behaviours makes the behaviour more or less likely to happen again. Rewards can help get your child to do more of the things you want them to do”

While Dutch neuroscientists have proved that rewards are more effective than punishment for younger children as they find it easier to follow.

At Thumbsie® we are in total agreement with this approach, which is why we promote our sticker reward chart. The chart is flexible and will allow each family to set their own targets and goals. And, of course, it’s a lot of fun for the children!

Q. Will thumb sucking cause long-term damage?

Unfortunately, long term thumb sucking can lead to permanent damage – especially to teeth and jaws. Problems that can emerge include an overjet or overbite, the formation of a lisp and misaligned jaws. These issues can in turn lead to other problems, such as tooth decay and even tooth loss, caused by the poor alignment of teeth – all very expensive problems to fix in later years.

WebMD notes that “If your child rests their thumb in their mouth for comfort, it may not have much impact on tooth development. But if your child sucks vigorously, it can cause permanent, significant changes”

Other problems that can stem from long term thumb sucking include lack of confidence and self-esteem, as some children who suck their thumbs into their pre-teen years can suffer bullying from their peers. Thumbs that are continually sucked are also more likely to have broken skin, making them more susceptible to infections.

Q. What is the best tactic to help my child stop thumb sucking?

Aside from rewarding good behaviour, the most important thing to do is to be consistent. Children thrive on routine and boundaries. It can be so tempting to have different sets of rules at nighttime or when a child is visiting grandparents. But it is important to keep consistent. Tell your child’s teachers, other family members and friends’ parents that you are trying to stop their thumb sucking – and ask for their help.

Q. What is a Thumbsie®?

A Thumbsie® is a fabric thumb guard that is handmade and fits over the thumb like a glove for the prevention of thumb sucking in children.

The glove is secured around the wrist using Velcro. The glove comes in 5 different sizes, it has a simple measuring guide, which helps them to fit well (they fit on either hand). The product covers the thumb and acts as a constant reminder when a child puts their thumb in their mouth. The finger guards fit over the middle two fingers, either the middle and ring finger or the middle and index finger.

They are colourful and come in a wide range of designs – including dinosaurs, flowers, footballs, butterflies and many, many more.

Q. Do Thumbsies work?

Thousands of happy families from up and down the country say “yes, they do!” In the ten years that Thumbsies® have been on the market, we have helped countless children break the thumb sucking habit. And, of course, for every one child there are many parents, teachers and family members who are also delighted. We are more than a business; we are a supportive community, and we are always thrilled to read our many positive reviews. Take a look for yourself. We have a 4.8 out of 5 rating on Google Reviews, too.

Thumbsie® has also been praised by dentists from across the UK – and even the world – as a fantastic way of protecting teeth and preventing long term damage. Best of all, we are officially accredited by the Oral Health Foundation, the leading dental health charity aiming to improve standards of oral health

And we’ve won multiple awards too. Each award we win offers just another example of the support we have from parents and helps to elevate the respect that Thumbsie® has as a leading health and wellbeing product.

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Grey Flower Thumbsie® Thumb sucking Guard
Grey Flower Thumbsie® Thumb Guard
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Multi-award winning Thumbsie® was created from a real need when Jo Bates’s, founder Thumbsie Ltd, third daughter Isabel needed help to stop thumb sucking!

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