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The Family Project: Limit thumb-sucking by daughter, 4

Q: I am desperate for advice on how to encourage my four-year-old daughter to stop sucking her thumb. Trying to get her to break the habit has been quite challenging for her and I don’t know what to do.

Thumb-sucking is an age-old issue, the Family Project panel agreed.

“Four years old is not too bad. Sucking is very soothing for children. Allow her to have something else like a pacifier that you can throw away,” said panelist Joanne Raftas.

Panelist Chad Stefanyak noted that with the coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic, there are good reasons you don’t want a child to put her thumb in her mouth all the time.

“Make it about health. Tell her if she wants to put her thumb in her mouth she will have to go wash her hands first. How many kids want to wash their hands all the time?” said panelist Mike Daniels.

“Work together without making your daughter feel bad. Tell her she has to go to her bedroom to suck her thumb. This way she makes choices on her own and it takes away the parental desperation. Make it a teaching moment to learn how to overcome a habit,” said Raftas.

Daniels agreed that at four, she is old enough to understand that thumb-sucking is something she only does in private.

“Limit areas where she is allowed to suck her thumb,” agreed Stefanyak.

The panelists recommended trying to replace thumb-sucking with a comfort object, such as a stuffed toy or blanket.

“Try not to make it a fight or a control issue. Handle it in a compassionate, loving way,” Daniels said.

The panelists recommended you approach it as a growing process.

“Have a talk about progression and explain how she started with a teething ring and moved on to her thumb. Now that she’s almost ready for school, ask her what she thinks is the next step,” said Daniels.

“Is this more of a parent issue? There is no right or wrong way to approach this. It is a social thing and at a certain age she will stop,” Raftas said.

“It seems her parents are embarrassed, but she will grow out of it. Eventually, it will stop,” Pam Wallace said.

This week’s panel: Pam Wallace, program coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor; Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh Children & Youth; Denise Continenza, extension educator; Joanne T. Raftas, registered play therapist and counselor, and Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist.

Have a question? Email: projectchild@projectchildlv.org

The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.

The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (Lehigh Valley Press) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the columnist and column do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Lehigh Valley Press. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health-care provider, with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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