How My Daughter Stopped Sucking Her Thumb


Motherhood is full of surprises, and this was probably my most surprising experience till date. I have a 3 year old daughter who loves to suck her thumb. Since she was born it’s been her go to action when she is sad, anxious, sleepy or hurt. We assumed she would eventually grow out of the habit, so we never forced her to stop. But after her third birthday, it didn’t seem very likely that she would stop on her own.

We tried the usually methods to get her to stop. We told her she was three and ‘now too big to suck her thumb, so she must stop’. Tried to make her feel a sense of shame by sucking her thumb. Tried to be stern with her and force her to stop. But nothing worked. I even bought a product off Amazon that you apply on the nails that tastes awful. Neither of us had the heart to use it on her…

One day she got a small cut on her thumb, I put her on my lap to put a band aid on her thumb. Unplanned, I had a simple and honest conversation with her. I showed her how the thumb she sucks on, felt hard and had cracks on it. I compared it to her other fingers that were soft and not bruised. I explained that the roughness and bruising was a result of her sucking her thumb and it wasn’t good for her. The conversation was very direct, no shame. I didn’t speak to her like a child but as an adult.

About two days later, I realized she had stopped sucking her thumb completely. Even in her sleep I could see her stop herself from sucking her thumb. At first, I didn’t know what brought about the change. I racked my brain over what happened in the past few days and realized that ever since I spoke to her about the bruising on her thumb, she completely stopped.

For me, that realization was so profound and healing to my inner child. I realized that I treated her with respect and gave her the benefit of handling and understanding an important conversation, rather than dismissing her intellect as a child. As a child, I resented being dismissed by adults, or them “protecting” me from tough conversations. The excuse was always, ‘Oh she’s a kid she won’t understand’. But I always understood and was extremely perceptive of what was going on. Kids always understand! There are random days where she does try to suck her thumb, but I repeat our conversation and praise her for doing so well by not sucking her thumb, and she stops.

Long ago, I saw a photo of Duchess Kate Middleton bending down to be at eye level with her son to talk to him. The article commented about how talking to a child at their eye level can make them feel equal and valued by the parent. This stuck in my head.

When my daughter throws a tantrum or refuses to listen, I crouch down and meet her at her eye level. In a calm tone, ask her to explain what she’s feeling and then have a conversation with her. No fancy language. Just meet her at eye level. And eventually she calms down, and the tantrum is over.

While kids are kids, their brains understand so much. And giving them that respect, can boost their self image so deeply.


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