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Thumbsucking and Pacifiers
Sucking on fingers, thumbs and pacifiers is common in infants and toddlers. It provides security and has been shown to decrease pain in infants under 4 months. It can be a very powerful habit to break in older toddlers and children.
Most children will stop the sucking habits on their own between 2 and 4 years of age. No harm is done to their teeth or jaws usually at these ages unless they have a strong suck or unusual finger placement during sucking. Watch for teeth not coming together in the front of the mouth.
Many parents ask how to get their children to stop pacifiers, thumb sucking or finger sucking as they get older. Fortunately, most kids break the habit themselves. As with most behavioral modifications, positive praise works much better than negative reinforcement.
Pacifiers can be left in the bed during the day and used only to help children sleep if they need it.
Finger and thumb sucking is a little more difficult. Praise your child when you notice he does not suck his thumb or finger in a circumstance he normally would. Do not belittle, punish or embarrass your child when she does suck the thumb or finger. (School-agers may notice, however, that classmates will tease, which leads to less sucking during the day, though not at night.) If an older (school-aged) child wants to stop but needs help, you can cover the thumb/finger with a bandage at bedtime. With children over 6-8 years old, dentists can put appliances in the mouth that make it uncomfortable to suck on the thumb/finger.
See Dr. Stuppy's blog on pacifiers and thumb sucking for more.
Some suggested books for children and their parents:
Ages 4-8 years