Thumb-Sucking as Sleep Aid

Is it okay if your child needs to suck his thumb to nod off?

Q: My boy falls asleep sucking his thumb. I'm breaking this habit during his waking hours but I give up at night. What do you recommend?

A. Thumb-sucking is a very good and very normal sleep aid. If it's associated with a sleep object such as a blanket or stuffed toy, it's a good idea to make a rule that the child can have his blanket or stuffed toy any time but just in his bed. By emphasizing that association, your child will get more sleep and will be less likely to be sucking his thumb.

As long as your child's thumb-sucking is restricted to sleep and bedtime, you really don't have to worry about dental deformities until his second teeth have begun to erupt. If your child is sucking his thumb excessively or wanting his blanket excessively, it's a clear-cut sign he's overtired. Of course, sometimes emotional distress can cause thumb sucking but fatigue is by far the more common cause.

The same rule I suggested for thumb sucking and blankets works extremely well for pacifiers. To review the rule, the pacifier can be used any time but only in bed. The one exception would be a long car ride, over an hour. Another exception would be a trip that might be frightening or uncomfortable, such as a visit to the doctor.

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