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How to Stop Thumb Sucking in Kids

Dozing tots are adorable with their thumbs in their mouths, but a first-grader poring over her homework, not so much. Your child's permanent teeth are on their way, along with potential damage, so it's time to do away with that pruney finger. Get started by:

Motivating your child. She'll need to want to stop sucking her thumb, so have your dentist explain how the habit can interfere with teeth and jaw alignment and encourage your child to stop, recommends Kimberley Blaine, author of The Go-to Mom's Parents' Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children.

Noticing the triggers. Does she suck her thumb before going to bed or while watching TV? Help her come up with other activities to do at these times instead, says Larry Gray, M.D., a developmental pediatrician at the University of Chicago Medical Center. If the thumb sucking occurs at night, give your child gloves to wear or put a bandage on her thumb so she's not physically able to suck it. During TV time, suggest that she sit on her hands or pet the dog. If your child is willing to try it, you can also paint her thumb with lemon juice, vinegar, or one of the bitter solutions sold at pharmacies to curb thumb sucking; just don't make it feel like a punishment --  present it to her as a reminder instead.

Being patient. Give lots of praise and consider a concrete example of success, like a reward chart (yep, even a little bribe can be okay!).