Bullying and Thumb Sucking: The Social Impact of the Habit on Children

By David Hutto

Picture a child in first grade standing on a school playground, watching other children kick a ball. The child wants to play and moves toward the other children, then asks, “Can I be in it?”

Instead of an expected answer like “OK, you be on that side,” the child is told “No, you’re still a baby. You suck your thumb. This game isn’t for babies.” And then imagine how that child feels.

If you think such a scenario is unlikely, consider that no less an authority than the Mayo Clinic, in discussing how to break a child of the thumb sucking habit, writes “For older kids who continue to suck their thumbs, peer pressure at school usually ends the habit” (Children’s Health).

Peer pressure. In other words, ridicule and teasing. It is assumed that older children who suck their thumbs will be teased.

Children can be inherently cruel, zeroing in like a laser on any perceived differences. According to the Health and Human Services website stopbullying.gov, children most at risk of being bullied are “perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school…” (Stopbullying.gov website). Children are looking for differences, and an older child sucking the thumb will certainly stand out.

Bullying has been recognized as a serious problem, something more than merely the negotiations with other people that everyone has to learn as we grow and mature. All bullying is abuse, and it can leave victims depressed, moody, or withdrawn. More serious effects can be a refusal to go to school or damage to self esteem.

Bullying can take a variety of forms. It may be physical but it can also be psychological, such as verbal teasing or what psychologists call “omission,” or leaving a child out of activities, as in the playground scenario above.

Recent statistics show that 1 in 7 students in grades K-12 is either a bully or a victim of bullying, and 15% of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school (Facts and Statistics). Because thumb sucking is often a stress-coping mechanism, the stress of being bullied can even lead to greater thumb sucking, creating a harmful and difficult cycle.

A second type of potential social impact from thumb sucking comes not from being observed as a thumbsucker, but from the physical damage that may be done to the teeth. If thumb sucking goes on too long, it can lead to malocclusion or other damage to teeth, creating an appearance that may be embarrassing to the child. Such embarrassment, even without teasing, can be harmful to social interaction and comfort.

All of the consequences discussed above are due to excessive thumb sucking, beyond the stage that is normal for all young children. None of these consequences has to happen, however, as they can be avoided by breaking the thumb sucking habit. Along with psychological support and positive reinforcement, a proven way to help break the habit is by disrupting the physical pleasure of sucking the thumb, and T Guard has been shown over and over to be an excellent physical device to stop thumb sucking.


Children’s Health: Thumb sucking. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/thumb-sucking/art-20047038?reDate=20112023

 Facts and Statistics, Make Beats Not Beat Downs, http://www.makebeatsnotbeatdowns.org/facts_new.html

 Stopbullying website. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. https://www.stopbullying.gov/