Monday, April 25, 2016

Parenthood: Week 149 - Breaking The Thumb Sucking Habit

We decided to help Ollie stop sucking his thumb.

I’m not going into why we are doing this. It’s clear in my online research on this topic that just like every single decision parents make, there are people who judge other parents harshly over this issue. So I’m not going to explain myself. But I do want to pull together different things that I’ve read and what has worked for Ollie to help other parents who desire to help their toddler stop sucking his or her thumb.

We are all about thumb-sucking. This habit was critical in Ollie learning how to self-soother and put himself back to sleep. We did the pacifier thing, but the thumb is much more convenient. Some people told us that we shouldn’t have Ollie suck his thumb because it’s a hard habit to break. However, we felt that Ollie’s ability to self-soothe outweighed potential future challenges, that might not be that bad.

Ollie is two and a half. There’s a big different between a toddler breaking a thumb sucking habit and a 6 year-old. My research was focused on toddlers.

First off, like anything we teach Ollie, it’s not about teaching Ollie to do something but empowering Ollie to be more independent. It’s not about teaching Ollie how to put on clothing, but helping him learn how to dress himself. With thumb sucking, it’s not about me as the parent stopping this habit, but rather helping Ollie learn how to stop the habit himself.

This philosophy instructs the entire approach including, not pulling the thumb out of his mouth, not using guilt, and not using any kind of gadgets or quick fixes (e.g. paint-on thumb deterrents). Never a power trip, we believed that this process needs to be something that Ollie could, understand and articulate.


Step 1: Awareness
Ollie didn’t realize how often and why he sucked him thumb. For a couple days, we asked him periodically if he was sucking his thumb without any negative judgment. We asked him if people around him sucked their thumbs: me, his teachers, Elmo, characters in books. We also had conversations about why Ollie liked sucking his thumb.

Step 2: The Thumb On/Off Switch
There’s things Ollie loves to do that are strong motivators for actions, like watching television and using the iPad. Whenever he did these things, he had to not suck his thumb. If he did, then the technology would go off.  Only after a couple pauses, Ollie stopped sucking his thumb during screen time and now we have extended reading books to times when he doesn’t suck his thumb (Ollie loves being read to).

Step 3: The Right Place And Time
Every time we go somewhere, we establish whether it’s a good place to suck his thumb or not. Asking Ollie to observe if other people in the space suck his thumb. Right now his room is a good place to suck him thumb and everywhere else is a place where he doesn’t do it.


Ollie still sucks his thumb when he cuddles and goes down to sleep for a nap or for bedtime. When he gets upset or tired, the thumb goes in his mouth, however I would say that about 80% of his thumb sucking has stopped in the span of two weeks.

One of the harder places it has been to get him to stop is in his car seat. We are currently doing the Band-Aid around thumb thing and rewarding him with M&M Minis if he has a dry thumb at the end of a car ride. Yes, we are bribing our son. We rewarded Ollie for potty training but now he only rarely asks us for candy after going, so we’re not too worried.

We initially hesitated with working with Ollie on thumb sucking because he only recently got a handle on the potty training thing. But I’m glad we made the push, because it’s been good for Ollie. As parents we are constantly teaching our kids skills to become more independent. At times, it would be nice to take a break from this, but as children get older, they need us to continually help them learn to grow.

Today it's teaching Ollie about thumb sucking and putting his toys away, before I know it it'll be teaching Ollie how to drive a car and how to be a caring and compassionate partner.

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