When do pacifier use and thumb and finger sucking become a problem?
If your child sucks strongly on a pacifier or his thumb or fingers beyond 2 to 4 years of age, this behavior may affect the shape of his mouth or how his teeth are lining up. If your child stops sucking on a pacifier or his thumb or fingers before his permanent front teeth come in, there's a good chance his bite will correct itself. However, if the bite does not correct itself and the upper adult teeth are sticking out, orthodontic treatment may be needed to realign the teeth and help prevent broken front teeth.
How can I help my child stop her pacifier use or thumb- or finger-sucking habit?
As a first step in dealing with your child's sucking habits, ignore them! Most often, they will stop on their own. Harsh words, teasing, or punishment may upset your child and is not an effective way to get rid of habits. Instead, try the following:
- Praise and reward your child when she does not suck her thumb or use the pacifier. Star charts, daily rewards, and gentle reminders, especially during the day, are also very helpful.
- If your child uses sucking to relieve boredom, keep her hands busy or distract her with things she finds fun.
- If you see changes in the roof of your child's mouth (palate) or in the way the teeth are lining up, talk with your pediatrician or pediatric dentist. There are devices that can be put in the mouth that make it uncomfortable to suck on a finger or thumb.
- No matter what method you try, be sure to explain it to your child. If it makes your child afraid or tense, stop it at once.
The good news is that most children stop their sucking habits before they get very far in school. This is because of peer pressure. While your child might still use sucking as a way of going to sleep or calming down when upset, this is usually done in private and is not harmful. Putting too much pressure on your child to stop may cause more harm than good. Be assured your child will eventually stop the habit on her own.