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Can PTSD in Children Cause Thumb Sucking?

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It’s tragic that we live in a world where children are the victims of or are exposed to traumatic events. While many people think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a disorder that only affects war veterans, the truth is that anyone who has experienced trauma, including children, can suffer from PTSD.

Some symptoms of PTSD in children are similar to those that appear in adults: irritability, outbursts of anger, withdrawal, and nightmares. But can PTSD in children cause thumb sucking?


Developmental regression is common in children suffering from PTSD. Child victims of physical or sexual abuse, kids who have witnessed violence, and children who are grieving the loss of a parent or grandparent may display signs of developmental regression. These may include bed wetting and mutism (losing the ability to speak). And yes, thumb-sucking can also be a symptom of PTSD.

Proper Diagnosis

It’s important to get a correct diagnosis of PTSD. While PTSD in children can cause thumb sucking, remember that thumb sucking doesn’t necessarily mean a child is suffering from PTSD. For a PTSD diagnosis, there must have been a traumatic event. The symptoms of PTSD must occur for a month or more and negatively affect the child’s normal life.

Getting a proper PTSD diagnosis is challenging because victims of trauma and those who have witnessed traumatic events often don’t want to talk about it. If a child is displaying multiple symptoms related to PTSD, seeing a child psychiatrist who can draw out what is bothering the child is critical to a proper diagnosis.

Symptoms of PTSD may mimic symptoms of ADHD, resulting in misdiagnosis and misdirected medication. If you suspect your child is suffering from PTSD, consult a qualified pediatric mental health professional for a proper diagnosis.

Helping a Child Overcome Thumb Sucking

Kids who suck their thumbs, either as a form of regression due to PTSD or simply as a comforting habit, risk dental deformation and blisters on their thumbs, which can become infected. Parents should learn about how to break thumb-sucking habits and work with mental health professionals to determine whether a child is sucking their thumb due to PTSD.

It’s important not to push a child who is suffering from PTSD. Listening, acknowledging a child’s feelings, and doing everything you can to help a child feel safe are critical to their recovery. Limit exposure to news, join with your child in using relaxation techniques, and be available to your child without criticism or belittling their behavior. Learn to recognize and avoid words, places, smells, or other triggers that upset your child because they remind them of the traumatic event

With professional help and treatment, a child suffering from PTSD can learn to manage their feelings and resist allowing their trauma to define or limit their lives. They can move on to grow into happy, well-adjusted adults with the strength to break the hold of traumatic events and triggers.


“Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Children” from Cedars Sinai

“Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Children” from the University of Rochester Medical Center