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Can Older Children Start Sucking Their Thumbs?

Today’s pediatric physicians refer to thumb-sucking as a non-nutritive sucking habit. The habit is a common, instinctive early childhood behavior, similar to using pacifiers or cuddling comfort blankets or stuffed animals. Babies and young children begin to suck their thumbs as a natural reflex to stimulate, self-soothe, or feel secure. For this reason, thumb-sucking is harmless at the core—and not inherently evil in practice—unless prolonged or excessive.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, between 70-90% of young children have some form of a non-nutritive sucking habit. But can older children start sucking their thumbs? When does the prevalent behavior absolutely need to stop? Where is the line drawn? Let’s examine closer these key questions. Read on to learn further information outlining what concerned parents need to be aware of.

Self-Soothing by Sucking

Thumb sucking is a source of comfort for newborns and infants—and an innate reflex that begins even before birth in their mother’s womb. This resourceful behavior is entirely instinctive. Essentially, no parent has to demonstrate how to suck a thumb to their child. The action simply happens as an impulse during daily routines. Young children figure out how to self-soothe or stimulate themselves on their own. As the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, “It’s important to remember that thumb- or finger-sucking is a normal and natural way for young children to comfort themselves.”

A Normal Developmental Behavior

Can older children start sucking their thumbs? Once again, the reflexive action is not negative in nature. Babies have the innate need to suck for nutrition from birth. Yet, they can gain only so much satisfaction when feeding on a breast or bottle. A baby must stop sucking when full. On the other hand, non-nutritive sucking allows an infant to gain comfort for endless hours. Thumb suckers have the advantage of convenience literally on their hands. A thumb is always there and cannot get lost, like pacifiers or blankets.

As a form of self-regulation providing comfort, thumb-sucking is an inherent need during early growth and development. However, the frequent occurrence of this behavior develops into an unbreakable habit over time, complicating its benefit to older children. At some point, children just become too old for this type of comfort.

If thumb-sucking is something your school-age child has done since birth, or if the behavior has suddenly surfaced at a later stage, stopping the habit is a wise idea. Concerned parents must help their children determine an alternative way to comfort themselves when feeling stressed or anxious. This plan of action supports their long-term health.

When Thumb-Sucking Becomes a Problem

A thumb-sucking habit taken too far—or held for too long—can negatively affect a child’s growth and development in varying ways. The effects thumb-sucking has on dental, oral, and social wellness are the most common problems older thumb suckers endure. According to the American Dental Association, “Children usually stop sucking between the ages of two and four years old, or by the time the permanent front teeth are ready to erupt.” Many dental dilemmas caused by a persistent thumb-sucking habit occur after a child reaches the age of five.

For this reason, older children are significantly at risk of the consequences of prolonged non-nutritive sucking habits. Acknowledging this risk is essential to target the best intervention for prevention. If you notice issues with your child’s teeth or mouth that need to be addressed as soon as possible, the ADA suggests seeking out advice from a pediatric dental professional. Your child may accept suggestions or gain a better understanding from a dentist regarding how to overcome their thumb-sucking habit.

The Influence of Age and Maturity

Alternatively, concerned parents should speak directly to an older child about stopping their sucking habit. The best chance of success from dependence to independence is to involve them actively in the process. An older child with a non-nutritive sucking habit has to decide when they want to give it up. Parents who nag, shame, or force their children to stop tend to generate further resistance. Depending on a child’s age and responsibility level, having a gentle conversation can go a long way.

A school-age child is old enough to make certain decisions and recognize when their behavior causes problems. That being said, a child still needs support and guidance when they are ready to make the change. Older children mainly use thumb-sucking for comfort and support due to anxiety, boredom, exhaustion, or restlessness. Parents may need to help their children find alternatives to replace the thumb-sucking habit in their routine. Strive to understand the reason why your child seeks out this behavior and determine a healthy and age-appropriate habit-breaking method.

How To Curb the Thumb-Sucking Urge

As a self-soothing activity, thumb sucking will ultimately come to an end. The best method to help your child curb the thumb-sucking urge depends on their individual behavior and demeanor. At the core, thumb-sucking is a habit, and using techniques that help break other habits is beneficial. Consider setting small goals, using praise and verbal reminders, creating a reward system, or continuing to consult trusted healthcare professionals for support and advice.

No matter what, patience and consistency are fundamental to parental techniques. Establishing healthier habits doesn’t happen overnight. However, some strategies begin to work immediately with some children. These approaches are worth trying to encourage your child to break the habit for good.

The Best Deterrent Strategy

Positive reinforcement is the best bet for positive results. Using a thumb-sucking glove or guard product can as an efficient deterrent strategy. Thumb guards are valuable additions to positive reinforcement techniques as children practice self-awareness and directly preventthe thumb-sucking urge from occurring.

For anindustry-leading thumb guard for children of all ages, look no further than AeroThumb by TGuard. Proven successful by clinical studies, this innovatively-designed device is a cost-effective method to break your child’s thumb-sucking habit with ease and speed. Our devices do not restrict movement and offer convenient comfort and reliability. Uncover further details and reviews on our website.


Non-nutritive sucking behaviors in preschool children: A longitudinal study” from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry

Thumbsucking and Pacifier Use” from the American Dental Association

Transitional Objects: Security Blankets & Beyond” by the American Academy of Pediatrics