Ask ME: How do I stop my child from sucking their fingers?

MEplace psychologist Viktoria Paniotova answers your parenting questions.

MEplace Psychologist Viktoria Paniotova

First of all, this kind of behaviour is normal for children under four: it’s a common way of self-soothing. Most will grow out of it by around the age of four, as they develop different coping mechanisms, so treatment before this age isn’t recommended.

However, if you do want to begin working towards eliminating this habit, there are a few harmless things you can try.

  1. First, you want to try and pinpoint when and why your little one is engaging in this behaviour. For a month, avoid any comments or conversations about finger sucking. In this time, keep track of when your child sucks their fingers. Is it when they are stressed? Bored? Tired? This knowledge will help you to find the best solution for your child.
  2. Next, hold an open conversation with your child: they need to be willing to stop the behaviour, too. Together, try and come up with a list of reasons to stop doing it, e.g. it will help them have healthy teeth, they will look older, etc.
  3. Once you are both on a mission towards stopping this behaviour, use every opportunity to praise your child for not doing it. Remember to be specific in this praise; you could tell them that you notice how hard they are trying, and how proud of them you are.
    You can also practice self-awareness and find alternative behaviours with your little one. Often, these kinds of habits are completely automatic, so they may not even notice when they do it. In these instances, gently ask them if they noticed that they put their fingers in their mouth.
    For alternative behaviours, consider why they suck their fingers. If they do it when distressed, try offering a hug or a breathing exercise instead. If they do it before bed, try gentle music or a cuddly toy to hold.
  4. Another thing to try is to track their progress together. You could make a chart for them to add a sticker each day they suck their fingers less. You could also agree on a reward for when they stop completely.

The most important thing to remember is to avoid making your little one feel stressed or judged for sucking their fingers, as this will only lead to them doing it more. Remember, the majority will grow out of it, but if you do choose to introduce a little extra support, do so gently and with a positive attitude.

To take part in our weekly Ask ME Anything, send your questions to us on Instagram.

Viktoria Paniotova
Psychologist and Content Manager at MEplace

Ed. Lizzie Corscaden
Content Creator at MEplace

References

Christophersen, E. R., & Mortweet, S. L. (2001). Treatments that work with children: Empirically supported strategies for managing childhood problems. American Psychological Association, p.79–97.

Byrd, M. R., Nelson, E. M., & Manthey, L. (2006). Oral-digital habits of childhood: Thumb sucking In J. E. Fisher & W. T. O’Donohue (Eds.), Practitioner’s Guide to evidence based psychotherapy. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/ACH-News/General-News/Finger-Sucking-in-Children

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