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How To Make My Kid Stop Sucking His Thumb

Updated on October 11, 2011

For lots of parents, it's a major problem to make their kid stop sucking his thumb. I know this doesn't sound like a major issue, but let's face it, most people don't like to see their kids do it. They would do anything, and in fact try every little trick of their parenting repertoire to make the kid stop sucking his thumb, especially in public places. However, despite doing their best, parents often don't succeed in their efforts.

Should you really push your kids to stop sucking their thumb? Or should you just leave them be until they get over it all on their own? Is it really doable at all?

Yes, it's doable, and is quite easy to do when you know the right technique. If your kid is under, say, 5 years old, you might want to let him or her suck that thumb, because that's what these little guys do anyway and under normal conditions there is nothing wrong with that.

If, however, your kid is older than that, you might get really embarrassed when he puts his thumb in his mouth and you might want to make him stop permanently. This is when this techniques comes in handy. So, just read on and you will find out...

Little boy sucking his thumb.
Little boy sucking his thumb.

how to make your kid stop sucking his thumb permanently.

I heard this story about a couple with a 6-year-old boy who, despite the best effort of his parents, refused to stop sucking his thumb. The parents were both psychiatrists and they knew a thing or two about human behavior, but whatever they tried with the kid, he just kept on doing what he did best.

They almost gave up when they heard about this famous doctor and hypnotherapist called Milton H. Erickson. They heard that he worked wonders with people no matter what their problem was. So they decided to bring their kid to Erickson.

They walked into his office, talked about their problem, the things that they tried, etc. The kid sat down in front of the doctor and was sucking his thumb defiantly.

Erickson paused for a moment and then looked at the boy, saying in a slow and disapproving voice, "Your parents brought you in here, because they thought that I would work some magic formula on you to make you stop sucking your thumb. They thought that I would hypnotize you." The boy didn't budge. He was giving the doctor a rebellious look.

Erickson said, "The thing is I'm not gonna do it. I don't want to make you stop sucking your thumb, because I think you should totally keep on doing it." The boy was a bit surprised, but Erickson went on. He said, "Why? Because you are a 6-year-old little boy and 6-year-old little boys have every right in the world to suck their thumb. They have every right!"

The boy looked at his parents accusingly. Erickson went on saying, "Of course, if you were a 7-year old young man, you would never do that! Why? Because, it's what 6-year-old little boys do. 7-year-old young men never suck their thumb." He gave the kid a look as if he was saying something totally obvious.

The parents were dissatisfied, because this wasn't really what they expected. The kids thumb stayed in his mouth, so they walked out the door. About two months later the kid stopped sucking his thumb permanently on his 7th birthday.

Underlying psychology

I don't know if you believe in the effectiveness of this method. I will tell you the underlying psychology so that it can make a little more sense.

Milton Erickson was a very successful practitioner of hypnotherapy. In fact, he is said to be the most effective, and probably best known hypnotherapist in history.

In his understanding, in any kind of therapy, it is key to meet people where they're at, meaning the first thing you do is acknowledging that the person's behavior is totally acceptable and is in fact the best they can do under the circumstance given. This is sometimes called establishing rapport with the individual by making them feel at ease in the company of the therapist. This is most easily done by assuring someone that you two are in the same frame of mind.

Then you have to reframe the situation. What this means is you get into their minds and change their way of thinking. In the above example, there is really not much difference between a 6 and a 7-year-old kid. The boy might not have thought of any difference at all, until Erickson named the 6-year-old a little boy and the 7-year-old a young man. The boy's thumb-sucking behavior looked appropriate in one case, but not so much in the other.


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    • pharmacist profile image

      Jason Poquette 6 years ago from Whitinsville, MA

      We have tried virtually everything for our 11 year old daughter. Psychology, devices, chemistry...none of our other children had this problem. But maybe I'll try this specific approach. We'll see. Her birthday is in April. Thanks for a well-written article!

    • Deborah Rangel profile image

      Glenn Ryall 6 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan

      This is an inspiring story and my parents used a similar way to stop me from sucking my thumb when i was small.

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      Hi Hear Me! Thanks and good luck!

    • Hear Me profile image

      Hear Me 6 years ago from Somewhere in Florida

      I am going to have to try this...psychology...who would have thunk it!

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      Just for the record, I know that baby is the cutest thing ever. I guess most mums would agree with you that it's way better to have a thumb-sucking kid than a mum-bugging one. I posted this, because I thought it could be of some use to people out there. It might as well stick with the SEs. Thanks for your two cents. :)

    • Ardie profile image

      Sondra 6 years ago from Neverland

      Just for the record - that baby sucking his thumb is the CUTEST thing ever. None of my kids sucked thumbs or took binkies so this isn't a topic I know about. However, there were often times I wished my kids did so they could've found comfort on their own. But noooo, they much rathered drag me out of bed to rock them or sing to them!

      I love how Erickson used psychology to reach the young boy though. You can always gain much more ground by making a person think change is his own idea rather than an idea that was forced upon him. Great article

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      You are right. A sad case. I guess he finally overcame it.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Haunty, that sounds more like a case of OCD. Hope the kid got therapy to overcome it.

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      At high school there was a guy who was a little crazy and used to punish himself by beating his finger against the desk until it got completely disfigured. Thanks for stopping in, JamaGenee.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Thanks for sharing Erickson's wisdom in communicating with a child. Thankfully, I never had to deal with a child who sucked a thumb, only a daughter who sucked her index finger! Can't remember how old she was when she stopped, but it was because the base of that finger had become visibly much larger and quite ugly and she had entered the "girly girly" stage.

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      So true, drbj. Erickson was smarter than a lot of people. Thanks for the comment.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

      In order to convince a 6-year old to stop sucking his thumb, you have to be smarter than the 6-year old. Milton Erickson understood that. Many parents do not.


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