Saying Goodbye to Thumb Sucking: Tips For The Transition

Exciting news! Currently, at the Lawler house, Nolan is working on saying goodbye to thumb-sucking! Thumb-sucking is a super common habit among babies and toddlers. It offers comfort and can be a great tool for self-soothing in those early years.

However, it’s important to help our little ones transition away from this habit, especially when it begins to impact their dental health and overall development. Especially during the toddler years, navigating this transition can be challenging! But with patience, consistency, and the right tools, you can support your little one in saying “goodbye” to their thumb-sucking habit for good.

 

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about:

 

When is the right time to say goodbye to thumb-sucking?

 

What are the reasons behind stopping thumb-sucking?

 

How do I avoid the power struggle? 

 

Are there any tools that can help in the transition?

 

Let’s jump right in!

 

 

When is the right time to say goodbye to thumb-sucking?

 

There’s no perfectly right or wrong time to give up thumb sucking…it’s going to be different for every family. And most children actually give it up on their own. However, if your little one is still sucking their thumb at around 4-5 years, it’s ideal to stop to avoid long term dental/oral impacts…but more on that later!

 

Right around the age of three, most toddlers are typically dropping their last nap. This makes it an ideal time to tackle the habit of thumb-sucking. By this age, they are more developmentally ready to understand and participate in the process of giving up this habit. 

 

Additionally, addressing their thumb-sucking at this stage can ensure that daytime sleep patterns aren’t overly disrupted, since they’re done with naps altogether. Thus, making the transition smoother for both you and your little one.

 

If you haven’t already, download my FREE Ultimate Naps Guide. It’ll give you all the knowledge you need to help your baby (or toddler) take great naps! Download for free here 💤

 

 

What are the reasons behind stopping thumb-sucking?

 

Here are the three reasons we knew it was time for Nolan to say goodbye to thumb-sucking:

 

1. Developmental Readiness

As a 3.5-year-old, Nolan is now old enough to understand, be incentivized, and want this for herself. Cognitively and emotionally, she can learn with me the reasons for giving up the habit. She can be motivated and incentivized to actively try to give it up. If she WANTS it, she’s 1,000% more likely to succeed.

 

 

2. Dental Health

In the long run, thumb-sucking can lead to a variety of oral issues, including misaligned teeth and palate problems. Check out these pictures I took of Nolan’s teeth.

 

Thumb-Sucking Impact on Dental Health | The Peaceful Sleeper

 

See how her palate is so narrow and her teeth are pointing inward? That’s how we know it’s definitely time…and we maybe could have started working on this sooner! By addressing this habit early on, you help prevent potential dental complications they might have in the future.

 

 

3. YOU Are Ready

Nolan’s my baby. My LAST baby. Of course I think it’s adorable that she sucks her thumb to self-soothe. I just haven’t been ready myself to say goodbye to it.

 

The thing is, as parents, we play a critical role in helping our children through this transition. When YOU are emotionally ready to help them say goodbye to thumb-sucking, you can have more confidence and patience with the process.

 

 

How do I avoid the power struggle?

 

As a toddler, it’s tough to give up things, period. So, it’s important that you are totally prepared for toddler power struggles during this new transition, especially during the first few nights. However you choose to go about letting go of thumb-sucking, your little one might resist the chance, seeking comfort in their familiar habit.

 

To overcome this, it’s crucial to make them want to give it up…we want them to buy in. How do we do this? Incentives! Incentivize the entire process. We’re using a sticker chart with Nolan. Basically, every night Nolan doesn’t suck her thumb, she earns a new sticker on her sticker chart. Each sticker equals $1, and she gets to save up for the prize of her choice (which, in her case, is a new Lego set).

 

During the day, we give gentle reminders of her reward and highlight all of the progress she’s made so far. It can also help to emphasize how much of a “big girl” or “big boy” they are for doing this!

 

In my 2-5 Years Content Library, I have an entire guide to learning how to eliminate toddler power struggles. Click here to check it out!

 

 

Dad and Toddler Doing a Thumbs Up | The Peaceful Sleeper

 

 

Are there any tools that can help in the transition?

 

1,000%, yes! There are so many amazing tools and resources to help them navigate this transition. Here are my top four:

 

 

1. Participatory Approach

Remember, we want them to buy in. Part of this is involving them in the process. For example, have them create the sticker chart with you. Nolan and I sat at the kitchen counter together and drew out her sticker chart.

 

We even found a picture of the specific Lego set she’s been wanting, printed it out, and glued it to the top of her sticker chart for extra motivation.

 

Having this sense of ownership will empower them and motivate them to give up the thumb-sucking.

 

If you haven’t already, download my FREE Ultimate Naps Guide. It’ll give you all the knowledge you need to help your baby (or toddler) take great naps! Download for free here 💤

 

 

2. “Thumbs Up, Brown Bear”

Books can be a super powerful tool in helping our little ones understand and navigate different transitions in their lives. “Thumbs Up, Brown Bear” is an awesome book written specifically for thumb-sucking! It’ll help your toddler relate to the experiences of the character who is also saying goodbye to their thumb-sucking habit. It makes the whole process more relatable and a little less daunting.

 

 

"Thumbs Up, Brown Bear" on Amazon | The Peaceful Sleeper

Click here to check it out on Amazon!

 

 

3. The Nipit

The Nipit “hand stopper” is a tool we’re using with Nolan right now – she calls it her, “arm bracelet”. Basically, it works by making thumb-sucking a little more difficult and uncomfortable. They can still bring their thumb/fingers up to their mouth, but the Nipit makes it uncomfortable to hold/stay there. Our plan right now is to try it out for one month!

 

 

Nipit on Amazon | The Peaceful Sleeper

Click here to check it out on Amazon!

 

 

4. Yucky-Tasting Nail Polish

This is one we haven’t tried yet but are super interested in! I know there are plenty of brands out there to try, this ella+mila one is just something I saw that had great reviews on Amazon! (*I also liked how the description said, “Made without Acetone, Formaldehyde, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) & other harmful chemicals; Rest assured that our products are safe to use & planet friendly; ella+mila strives to be environmentally responsible & health conscious.” How it works is, by applying a yucky-tasting nail polish to your toddler’s thumb, it can make the sucking less appealing. 

 

ella+mila on Amazon | The Peaceful Sleeper

Click here to check it out on Amazon!

 

 

 

Recap On Saying Goodbye to Thumb-Sucking

 

Transitioning away from thumb-sucking is a major milestone for you and your little one! By utilizing helpful resources and anticipating the power struggle, the transition can be made much more smoothly. I’ll continue to give updates on Nolan’s progress over on my Instagram Stories!

 

If you notice the transition is taking a toll on your toddler’s sleep, talk to a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant! They’re here to help and provide any level of support you need. Click here to book a consultation today!

 

Whether your little one is a newborn (0-4 Months Content Library), 4-24 months (4-24 Months Content Library), or a toddler (2-5 Years Content Library), we have the resources you need to get your family the sleep you all deserve!

Christine Lawler

Christine Lawler

MS, LMFT, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Hi! I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, practicing for over 13 years. I’ve set out to do ALL of the research and I created a method to optimize baby sleep that is tuned in, empowering and WORKS. There absolutely should be joy in motherhood, and I have learned that every baby CAN get better sleep!

Read more about my team here.

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