Why Is My 12-Year Old Sucking Her Thumb?

It is not likely that you will be able to get your daughter to stop sucking her thumb, until and unless she sees the thumb sucking as a problem she wants to solve.

Thumb sucking that continues to age 12 is an extension of a strong oral habit from early childhood. It is not usually a sign of psychological stress or abnormality. It is less and less socially acceptable, however, for youngsters this age to suck their thumbs and classmates are likely to tease them, and siblings and older relatives are likely to shame them. All of which may make thumb sucking seem all that more important to your daughter!

Prolonged thumb sucking can result in a dental malocclusion or an abnormal bite. The habit is not hygienic, and your daughter’s thumb may have an odor that others perceive as unpleasant. At some level your daughter is aware that she needs to give up the habit. It is just not “cool” to suck your thumb in middle school.

To help motivate your daughter to break her habit, begin by pointing out the disadvantages of the thumb sucking — the embarrassment, the odor, the teasing, the possible damage to her bite — and ask her how you can help her break the habit.

If she agrees, you might ask the dentist to create and install a thumb guard into the top of her mouth, which will make it impossible and uncomfortable to suck her thumb. Or you might ask her if she would like to paint the thumb with a bitter medication (available over the counter) or a hot and spicy pepper sauce, which can serve as a reminder not to put the thumb in her mouth. Wearing a bandage on the thumb every day can also serve as a reminder.

Ask your daughter if it would help her to identify a reward for stopping — a trip to a treasured vacation spot with the family, for example, or some other goal that may help motivate her. Go shopping with her and buy nail care items and nail polish, and encourage her to take care of her hands and thumb.

But if your daughter is not interested in any of these suggestions, she is not ready to give up the habit. Let her know that you are available to help her when she is ready to work on it. And then stop all comments, threats, bribes and ridicule about her habit. Be sure the rest of the family does the same. It is likely she will stop, or ask you to help, when the opinions and comments of her seventh and eighth-grade friends begin to bother her.

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