Advice On Getting a Four Year Old to Quit Sucking His Thumb

Make that 3 four year olds.

how to stop thumb sucking

Uno. (Brooks)

four year old still sucks thumb 

Dos. (Isaac)

how to quit sucking thumb

Tres. (Clark)

I know it’s thumb sucking is a terrible habit. AND it’s terrible to break.  Henry is the only one exempt and he’s pretty proud of that fact.

It started back in the day when Brad and I were trying to survive the sleepless nights x4.  We took turns putting pacifiers in all night long with our little preemies, until we looked at each other and decided this was not going to work. We took away the pacifiers cold turkey and never looked back.

Thus, they took matters into their “own hands” and started sucking their thumbs. All but Henry. We were thrilled – build in pacifiers, more sleep, self-soothing, RELIEF!

However, as their five year old birthday lurks just around the corner we know this is a habit we HAVE to break, and cutting off their thumbs isn’t exactly socially acceptable. We’ve pretty much cut it down to just at night time, but whenever they are tired or comfy or whenever Brooks and Clark find a tag on something (shirt, blanket, stuffed animal, do you know how many tags exist in this world???!!!), their instinct is to plop the thumb in their mouth.

Therefore, I’m looking to you, Wise Ones. You’ve been around this block a time or two, right?  Although they came four at one time, I’m technically still a first time mom, so I need some help. 

How do I get four 4 year olds to ditch the thumb sucking habit?

40 thoughts on "Advice On Getting a Four Year Old to Quit Sucking His Thumb"

  1. If you figure it out please let me know. Peyton just turned 5 last week and I do not see breaking the habit anytime soon. He LOVES his thumb!

  2. Brittany C says:

    Jen – my mom suggested lemon juice when i was trying to stop biting my nails.

  3. Trish says:

    Don’t worry about it! How many college students do you know who suck their thumb? Like all milestones, this one will come eventually. They’ll stop sucking their thumb when they are good and ready and it really isn’t worth fretting about.

  4. Catherine says:

    I wish I had an answer for you, but know you are not alone. I have triplets who will be 5 in three months. One has never sucked his thumb, one only sucks it at night, and one sucks his thumb a lot. I’ll be reading comments to see if anyone has a good idea.

  5. Lacy Justus says:

    My girl sucked her index and middle finger. I looked online for help and got some advise to try a Finger Guard. It did take about 8 weeks but she is completely broke from it now. It is quite expensive and I know you would need 3. But maybe you could look up and get some ideas from looking at it. Maybe you could somehow make your own, kindof like a guard for a broken thumb and have them help tape it on. My daughter didn’t want to put it on the first night, but after that she reminded me everytime it was naptime or bedtime. Then one night she didn’t remind me and it was all over. She woke up the next morning realizing she didn’t wear it and was so excited for herself that she did not suck her fingers. It was a great day here! Good Luck!

  6. Crystal says:

    Take heart — my husband sucked his thumb at night until he was TWELVE, and I promise, he’s totally normal today. 🙂

    What I’ve heard from other moms is wrapping the thumbs in cool duct tape to remind them not to suck! Maybe you could find some in cammo?

  7. Jen says:
    Seriously. This is a real thing. This lady specializes in thumb sucking cessation. And travels around the country giving presentations. I met her last year and briefly mentioned my then 1 year old was an avid thumb sucker. She said 1 is fine, 5 is not. I am not looking forward to my one thumb sucker quitting, don’t envy 3! Good luck.

  8. Kimberly says:

    Heather from It’s Twinsanity just did a post about breaking her twin girls from the habit. Check it out.

  9. Wiley says:

    ZERO personal experience, but I did see another blog in my reader today that addressed finger sucking with duct tape: Since there are some cool patterned duct tape out now, maybe would work?

  10. Carrie says:

    this is a bit extreme, but it worked for us. just break their arms in a place that causes their cast to restrict movement and prime positioning of their thumb in the mouth. (okay, so i didn’t actually break my kids arm on purpose- he did it himself! the happy result of his 8 weeks in a full arm cast was the breaking of the habit of finger sucking!)

    my two-year old is now a very dedicated thumb sucker as well. the chances of a broken arm to break this one’s habit is pretty slim, so i will be referring back to your site for advice when the time comes… 🙂

  11. Krista says:

    Our son did it often for 7 years…it was time for orthodontics and the doctor told us to put a bandaid on the thumb…it worked….7 year habit kicked in 3 days. Of course lot of reward when he conquered the bad habit too!

  12. Lauren says:

    I am curious to see what others say too! My 15 month old loves her thumb and I’d love to have tips on hand if she keeps it going for awhile. I know I personally was a late thumb sucker… (sheepish)… my mom tried this fingernail polish that was supposed to taste nasty, but I remember ignoring it and sucking my thumb anyway. Lol! Good luck with whatever you try!!!!

  13. Amy says:

    I wish I knew the name of the stuff, but my mom put HORRIBLE tasting stuff on my fingers when I was little. I bit my nails, didn’t suck my thumb. I still remember the horrible taste. I don’t know where she found it or what it was, but it helped. (I still bite them some now, so it wasn’t a complete success story, but maybe it works better for thumb suckers. Good luck!

  14. samantha Brewer says:

    My friends three year old daughter was a thumb sucker until they went to the dentist and the dentist sat her down and told her what would happen if she did not stop sucking her thumb. Now if she does suck her thumb, she is just reminded not too. You could always give this a go and really build up how important dentists are so that they really listen to him.

  15. Marianne says:

    Well I only sucked my thumb/finger when I was sleeping, but my mom tried everything to get me to stop. Taping a glove to my hand, finger splints, bandaid on my finger, clear nail polish, etc. I even broke my finger at 9 (yep, still sucked at 9) and then just switched to my thumb. I finally broke the habit on my own by just sticking my hand under my pillow when I slept. Also? I never had my braces and my teeth are perfectly straight, so there’s still hope for them! 😉

  16. Stacey McCastlain says:

    We were able to help our five year old stop sucking his first two fingers just a couple of months ago. He was a non-stop, all day and all night long sucker. I had tried rewards and also putting that nasty tasting stuff on his fingers. Nothing was working. Then we saw a speech therapist who said in front of him that he really needed to stop because his teeth were moving. She gave me an idea that I tried but ended up not even needing. I’ll tell you the idea in a minute. But the fact that he heard his teeth were moving was enough for him. He has never done it again. Totally freaked him out. In fact, he now has two loose teeth and is very upset about it. So all it took in the end was hearing that.
    Anyway, her idea sounded good too and I think it may have worked. I even did it for a few nights before realizing we didn’t need to. You take surgical tape and wrap it around the fingers. Ideally wrapping more than what goes in the mouth so it’s different from what they are used to. The thumb may be a little tricky but it still may work. Maybe gently wrap it a few times or even with a cotton ball wrapped in so it can’t fit real well. You could set up a reward system that if it is dry in the morning they get to watch a favorite show or something like that. Sugarless gum is my new reward for things and I love it. Just a thought. Hope this helps.

  17. My two girls were never thumb suckers, but my two month old boy is turning into a finger sucker (sucks his index finger). I was a thumb sucker until I was 10. Yep, ten. And I stopped on my own after my dad casually asked how long I planned to suck my thumb. “Till high school? College?” Since I was at the I -wanna-be-cool-and-older stage I quit. Before then, my famil tried everything to get me to stop (lemon juice, band aids, tabasco sauce, etc). I would just scrubmy thumb and keep sucking. Ha! I figure kids will stop when they are ready. And for the record, thumb sucking never messed up my teeth. Maybe I was lucky, but my dentist says you’d never have known I was a thumb sucker.

  18. I am surprised at all the late thumb suckers who had good teeth. I sucked until I was 5 and had horrible buck teeth in front from my thumb pushing my teeth forward. The thought of three orthodonic bills is quite scary.

    My parents used the nasty tasting stuff. It worked for me. But I think the duct tape idea seems to be more logical. Or fear. Fear and intimidation works wonders 🙂

  19. Kelly says:

    The nasty tasting stuff 🙂

  20. Sara says:

    I have a thumb sucker and a taggie stroker! She is three. It is funny to watch her because as soon as she starts stroking a tag her thumb is immediatly drawn to her mouth. It’s so crazy how they self soothe! I have no idea where to start wtih her quitting so I’ll be watching the comments as well.

  21. Debbie in Grayson says:

    I sucked my thumb until I was 10 (my husband claims I still do if over tired but I don’t believe him) and had two children who thumb sucked. Both needed the palette expander from sucking their thumbs. What we did and what worked for out daughter was to take away her blanket( her trigger) and put socks on her hands and duct take those to her pjs. Duct taping their thumbs would be very hard on their skin if not rip the skin off so I would not recommend that. The biggest thing is that the boys want to stop and then removing the trigger in their case tags. The appliance to stretch their palletes worked for my son since it prevented suction but it was not a fun thing having to turn the key on it every day. The dentist also recommended hot sauce but that is just mean. (We found a new dentist after that)

  22. Tara says:

    I have to disagree with some that said to let the boys out grow it on their own. In my opinion, do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING you can to make them stop. I am a 30-something finger sucker and I hate it but at this point, my sleep is more important then trying to stop. My parents tried a few things when I was young, but obviously whatever they tried didn’t work.

    1. Tara, you were a bit more open and honest than I was in the comment I made below…so since you were so honest, I will come clean on the rest of my story. I was in my 30’s and a mother of two before I quit sucking my thumb…not proud of the fact but I agree, nothing my parents tried got me to stop.

  23. Jennie says:

    Interesting. My 6 year old still sucks her thumb…but only if she has her blanket. And we only allow the blanket in her bedroom. I asked her not long ago if she sucked her thumb at school (must have been related to some conversation about how she was tired) and her response was “no way!”. So I figure it isn’t much of a big deal, a few minutes while she falls asleep at night.
    I sucked my thumb and normal teeth and never needed braces. So far the dentist hasnt noticed any affects of the thumb sucking but has warned that she needs to stop.

  24. Alice says:

    My 6yr. old boy finally stopped sucking his thumb like a year ago. His main trigger was his blanket, so I took his blanket away. I also used that nasty tasting clear nail polish stuff, he HATED that. Very cheap solution! I also gave him constant reminders, etc. and said it would hurt his teeth. Our dentist said he saw damage in the way his mouth is shaped or something and says he’ll need correction later on in life… great. I hope he’s wrong. His teeth are a little buck, but they seem to have gone back since he quit and it’s not really noticeable I don’t think… but it was before. It really can cause damage and it’s good to get them to break the habit asap… or you could have dental bills X3!!

  25. Melissa P. @Mel4Him says:

    You could try wrapping their thumbs with medical tape. It makes the thumbs bulky and I’m sure very unpleasant in the mouth. I had a friend who tried that method with her daughter. Not sure if it worked though. I actually sucked my thumbs until I was 6. The result for me was that my thumbs when I hold my thumbs up they have much more of a curve then those who never sucked theirs.

  26. Stacey McCastlain says:

    It seems there are different experiences regarding the effect on teeth. For our son his teeth were definitely moving. A lisp, that he didn’t have previously, started to develop. The therapist said if we stopped soon his teeth should move back pretty quickly. Within a few weeks of him stopping I noticed the lisp going away and now a couple of months later there is no lisp at all.

  27. My daughter too… She just turned six and although the dentist hasn’t said anything, the pediatrician and an orthodontist I know said she should have stopped at five. Depending on the child, it can really mess up their palate and teeth. I showed my daughter pictures of people with the over bite/predominant upper lip and she quit for awhile but is now going back again. 🙁 She doesn’t do it at school, which helps. I thought I could see a positive change in her profile during the time she had stopped.

    The orthodontist recommend this book: David Decides About Thumbsucking: A Story for Children, a Guide for Parents by Susan P H. D. Heitler, Susan M. Heitler

    Probably like potty training, different things work for different kids – good luck to all of us!

  28. Ok, I am really sorry to leave this information but I thought I would leave some information FROM a thumb-sucker. My mom tried everything to get me to stop sucking my thumb. She used hot thumb medicine on my thumb but I would just suck it off and spit it in the toilet. I sucked my thumb until I was an adult…yes, sad I know but I’m being honest with you guys. Even as a child I didn’t suck my thumb in front of people because I came from a time that kids made fun of thumb suckers and my parent’s were trying to discourage it.

    Because of what I went through trying to break the habit, I didn’t want to go through that with my children so I made sure my children took the pacifier. My second daughter didn’t want to use the pacifier, she wanted her thumb. I was trying to figure out what to do to discourage the thumb sucking…she was tiny…around a month old…way to little for drastic measures like hot thumb medicine. After shooting up a quick prayer, it came to me…I put some lemon juice on her thumb. She made a face when she tasted that lemon covered thumb and tried it one more time…after that she took her pacifier without a problem.

    I’m sorry this information comes a little late for some of you and I TOTALLY understand why you gave up on the pacifiers…you needed your sleep. I wish I could be more encouraging as to what to do.

    I saw from your profile on Twitter that you are a Christian so my only other suggestion at this point would be to talk to them about asking God to help them break the habit. Sometimes God is the only one that can help with our bad habits. That’s really the only way I was able to quit. I know your boys are young but as I am sure you have all ready learned, they understand a lot more than we give them credit for. Will be praying for all of you. God Bless.

  29. My second daughter sucked her thumb until she was about 4 or 4 1/2. She really wanted to stop because she thought it was babyish, but she just couldn’t. That thumb would go in if she was watching tv, in the car, at school at “circle time,” if she was tired or hungry. A lot of the day she was sucking her thumb.

    So we started putting a band-aid on each thumb to help her remember. We kept the band-aids on (changing as needed) for a month. And after a month, she had broken the habit.

    Not easy (or cheap, with your three), but it worked. For our third and fourth kids, we insisted on the pacifier 🙂

  30. Gayle says:

    It was very interesting to read through all the suggestions/comments. I have five kids and none sucked their thumbs so I don’t have a real solution (although I could come up with lots). Wishing you good luck with it, but really…in the big picture most of us have messed up teeth one way or another so stressing out about messing them up a little extra isn’t worth it. It will all be okay in the end.

  31. Stacey Paul says:

    I think Brynn may finally be done. Last March she quit cold turkey and did an awesome job with it. Then in June on vacation she started up again and it was almost worse than before!

    She made the first effort to stop with our gentle reminders and a bribe for stopping. When it started up again she didn’t want to stop but we gave her a deadline of her bday till we would intervene. Basically, we would try to remind her nicely about the thumb and try not to make a big deal out of catching her. Limits on the blanket too because it automatically triggered the thumb and definitely no bribes this time. She actually lost the initial bribe object and had to re-earn it.

    I think they need to own the decision some to stop the habit.

  32. oh amanda says:

    I did not allow pacifiers in my house when Lydia was born b/c I did not want a 5 yo sucking on a paci. And a thumb-sucker? NO WAY.

    Of course, Lydia became a thumb sucker. And honestly? I liked it. Sometimes when she was really upset, I could say to her, “Suck your thumb” and she calmed down.

    Finally, when she went to her first dentist appointment at 4yo, the dentist told her to stop sucking her thumb. She showed her x-rays of her teeth being slightly moved b/c of her thumb. And told her to make a chart of no thumb-sucking. If she could not suck her thumb for one month, she could bring the chart in and get a prize (2 movie tickets!) from the dentist. This was all said and done in the nicest, non-threatining way ever!

    And that did it. She never EVER sucked her thumb again. Not one time. I kid you not.

    BUT. Sometimes I wish she still did suck her thumb. Lydia’s always been shy, had problems with self-control, etc. And sometimes I wish I could say, “Lydia suck your thumb!” She’s started biting her fingernails now (she’s newly 6) and I almost feel like, for her, she needed that outward comfort or that crutch for self-control. Maybe not. But that’s what I feel like.

    Honestly, I just wouldn’t worry about it too much. Maybe visit the dentist and see if braces are in your future. If so, ask if you can do a commercial in exchange! 😉

    Miss you, friend!

  33. Cynthia Crowell says:

    My oldest is 8 1/2 and sucked her thumb until she was almost 7. The Pediatrician and dentist kept telling me that she had to be the one motivated to stop sucking it, and that her teeth and jaw were still soft enough to correct themselves.

    I helped her motivation by offering a slumber party for her 7th birthday if she stopped sucking her thumb….only babies suck there thumb and babies don’t get to attend slumber parties. We used the stuff you paint on their nails as a reminder. I bought Malva online and it was WAY better then the kind you could buy at the drugstore. It tasted NASTY!! She only tasted it 2 or 3 times and that combined with her internal motivation and the carrot of the slumber party in a few months, she stopped about 4 months before her birthday party!!! And for the record, 7 is too young for a slumber party…it was chaos 🙂

  34. Marica says:

    After buying the cheap over the counter nasty nail polish stuff (which my 4-year-old promptly sucked off each time), I purchased Mavala Stop online and it pretty much worked immediately. It eliminated her daytime sucking and reduced her nighttime sucking drastically. We aren’t completely over the hump yet…but we’re getting closer! Mavala Stop has worked pretty great for us…I recommend it.

  35. Melissa says:

    I have a thumb sucker (4) and a finger sucker (2). Our Pediatric Dentist is AWESOME he talked to the 4 year old and in kid terms discussed with him that his teeth and mouth are doing things they are supposed to because of the thumb sucking. The dentist encouraged us to make a big deal out of not sucking the thumb, offer gentle reminders if it happens, but make a huge deal out of it when it doesn’t. My 4 year old only really sucks his thumb at nap and bed time, or if for some reason he has his bunny (both my kids have lovies and that seems to be a trigger for both of their sucking habits). We now put bunny up during the day and are wrapping his thumb with cloth medical tape at night. We talked to him about the tape and how it’s there to remind him not to put his thumb in his mouth at night. When the 4 year old woke up this morning he proudly told me that his tape was dry. He knows that if he stops sucking his thumb he gets a treat from the dentist and from us (he got to choose the treat that he wants). I pray you find something that works for you guys, it’s a hard habit for kids to break.

  36. I am a grown adult with twins… I sucked my thumb until I was 9. My mom dried to bribe my younger brother and I to stop. She promised to buy us a toy if we gave up our thumb. My brother gave it up right that moment, and demanded to be taken to the store. I opted to keep my thumb.. until I was 9…

    I think I am normal…

    : )

  37. Pam says:

    Bribery! My sister bribed her daughter with a doll she really wanted. She put bandaids on as a reminder. They had a chart on the refrigerator. The doll was on top of the refrigerator waiting for her to reach her goal.

  38. Oh, wow… thankful that I’m not the only one going through this. My 4 1/2 yr old is a thumb sucker, never would take a pacifier. We’ve got it down to just at night (or when she’s extremely tired or upset), but I’m hoping she’ll stop soon. 🙁

  39. Carter says:

    I sucked my thumb through high school (I’m almost 30 now). I would rinse off anything that tasted bad on my thumb, but my mom would put a sock on my hand and if I took it off she would put it back on while I was sleeping. There is also a nail polish (or was 18 years ago) that my mom tried that couldn’t be rinse off as easily, but I don’t know if it is around anymore. It is clear.

    I think, though, what FINALLY kicked the habit (because even when I stopped sucking at night I still would have moments of anxiety/fear where I would start again) was getting an infection under my thumb nail and it hurt to suck it.

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