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How can I encourage my child to stop sucking her thumb?

My 5-year-old is still sucking her thumb. I can see it's making her front teeth stick out, but she can't seem to fall asleep or relax without it. Help!
Submitted by Parents.com Team

It's probably time to get your dentist involved, especially since your daughter's thumb-sucking habit is visibly affecting her teeth. You can't possibly watch your child every minute of the day, and a kid determined to suck her thumb will attempt it no matter how much you nag her. Plus, most kids with a deeply ingrained thumb-sucking habit will usually do it automatically at night, when you can't possibly stop it the whole time. If the dentist agrees that your daughter's habit is causing a problem, he can suggest a type of mouth guard to wear at night to prevent her thumb from getting up near the teeth and pushing them outward. Although your daughter will probably not be a huge fan of this device, it is a great way to protect her teeth while she learns to sleep without the comfort of sucking her thumb. What's more, little girls can be incredibly vain and once your daughter realizes what her thumb sucking habit is doing to her appearance, she may stop on her own. But if she doesn't, here are a few other strategies that might help:

• Put a bandage on your daughter's thumb during the day as a gentle reminder not to suck.
• Buy something comforting for your kid to hold during the times she's most likely to suck (like on car trips or while watching TV). Make the object a positive thing by telling her you bought her a present to use whenever she feels like she needs to suck her thumb. Be sure it's something she can also take to bed with her.
• When you see your daughter sucking her thumb, engage her in an activity that requires both hands like a coloring or sticker book, an art project or a handheld video game. Every time your daughter reaches for one of these options instead of sucking her thumb, praise her willpower.
• Institute a reward system for not sucking, starting with short periods of time to help your daughter succeed. For example, say, "If you don't suck your thumb at the park this morning, we'll get ice cream afterward." As she gets better at keeping her hands away from her mouth, increase the time period until the habit's broken.

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The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.

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