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How to Stop a Teen From Sucking His Thumb

by Melissa Lewis, studioD

Thumb-sucking is normal for babies and small children. Most developmental experts tell parents not to worry about it in children under 5 years, which is an age when most children have already given up the bad habit on his own. After age 5, however, thumb-sucking can start to damage the shape of the mouth and teeth. If your teen still sucks his thumb or has regressed back to thumb-sucking, intervention is in order.

Talk to your teen to verify that he wants to stop sucking his thumb. Visit his doctor so he can also discuss the matter with your teen. Stopping your teen from sucking his thumb works best if he also wants to stop the habit. With his doctor, also discuss the possibility that the thumb-sucking is a sign of stress or an emotional issue, which is more likely if your teen's thumb sucking coincides with other symptoms such as depression, sleep disturbance and irritability. Your doctor might recommend a psychologist, who will help the teen and family deal with your teen's issue as a whole, not just the outward sign of thumb-sucking.

Incorporate home remedies, such as putting on gloves, bandages or thumb guards during times when your teen is most likely to suck his thumb. He can also apply a bitter substance that's sold over the counter at most pharmacies for this purpose. It also works for nail-biting.

Reward your teen for not sucking his thumb. An open door policy for his bedroom might be in order so you can keep a better eye on him. Base the reward on your child's interests and desires, such as tickets to a NFL game, a game system, money toward a car or new clothes.

Visit an orthodontist to ask whether he recommends a fixed palatal crib for your teen. A fixed palatal crib is specially made for the person's mouth and cemented to the upper teeth. Because of its wires, it is difficult to suck the thumb. If your teen manages to still suck his thumb, it is not pleasant like it once was, according to NYU Medical Center. Typically, in nine to 12 months, enough time has passed to break the habit of thumb sucking so the crib is removed.

Items you will need
  •  Gloves
  •  Thumb guard
  •  Bandages
  •  Bitter substance

About the Author

Melissa Lewis is a former elementary classroom teacher and media specialist. She has also written for various online publications. Lewis holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images