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Giving Up the Thumb

Thumb sucking is a relaxing comfort, but if it goes on past age 5, it can lead to crooked teeth, speech impediments, and difficulty learning in school, says oral myologist Rosemarie Van Norman, author of Helping the Thumb-Sucking Child.

Fortunately, by 5 many kids have the developmental skills needed to quit: an understanding of cause and effect, an ability to practice self-control, and a grasp of time.

Since thumb lovers rely on their habit when life's unsettling, pick a time to quit when everything's on an even keel. If you work weekdays, start on a Saturday so you'll be around. The first step is to motivate:

Emphasize the positive:
She'll have a nice smile, find it easier to be understood, be more grown-up.

Provide encouraging feedback
and remind her you're there to help.

Offer little rewards,
such as a small toy or extra reading time, for not sucking for an entire day. After a week, make a progress chart and set longer goals, like a whole week.

Give her hands something to do
  -- a game, a sock puppet  -- especially when she's tired or hungry.

It may take three months to let go of the habit completely, says Van Norman, but after the first few days, it does get easier.