There Is No Age Limit On Thumb-Sucking

My Son Sucked Fingers Until He Was 10

Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy:Getty
Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy:Getty

My youngest son started sucking his fingers as soon as he had the coordination to get them in his mouth. Before that, he’d suck on his hand, just below his thumb leaving it dry, raw and cracked. It was obviously something that was very important to him — I’d never seen a kid struggle so hard to get a hand to their mouth. He’d often get frustrated and cry if he couldn’t get a good grasp on it.

At first, he sucked three fingers at a time and I was thankful — it calmed him down instantly and made my life easier, especially since I had two toddlers running around at the same time. If he was upset, it soothed him. If he was happy, it helped him reel it in a bit and seemed to help him establish some self-control, especially if he wanted to touch something he wasn’t supposed to.

Sucking his fingers helped him fall asleep and after having two older kids who were addicted to their pacifiers, the convenience was amazing. Gone were the days of kids freaking out because all the pacifiers were lost. The fact that my youngest could self-soothe and put himself to sleep with his little magic wands which were attached to his hand was a relief.

I figured he stop sucking them when he got older, say around four or five, but that’s not what happened. When he entered kindergarten, his teacher said he never sucked this fingers at school, but as soon as he hopped in the car after a long day, he plug them right into his kisser and they’d stay that way only to be removed when he was eating or talking. There were times he even tried both because he loved his digits so much.

As the years passed, so did my concern. When he was 6, I asked his pediatrician if it was all right that he was still sucking his fingers. “He’s still young, she said, “His mouth is still forming and it’s perfectly normally to have a finger-sucker at this age. Don’t worry.”

Then the next year passed with no change. He didn’t even cut down on the amount he sucked them and didn’t care if he was seen in public with his fingers in his mouth.

When he turned eight and grew about three inches, I began to worry. He looked so old and was still sucking those damn fingers. It was driving me bonkers. I began to try and get him to stop with bribes and treats. Nothing worked though.

I got frustrated and asked the pediatrician again that year — he was going on nine and I thought for sure this was way too old and wondered if I was doing something wrong.

“Have the nagging, reminders, or treats worked at all?” she asked as I sat in her office and he was outside reading a book with his dad.

“No, I said. “Nothing is working.”

“Then stop,” she answered. “Talking about it may make him feel like he’s doing something wrong and could create anxiety around the situation. He is going to stop sooner or later and it will all be fine. Stop talking about it all together and see what happens.”

It was really hard for me, but I did it. People asked me why he still sucked his fingers all the time. They asked me if I was worried. They told me I should dip his fingers on gross tasting food, which was dumb because he was old enough to wash his hands to get it off. They told me he wasn’t “normal” and I should punish him in order to get him to stop.

It made me think back to when I was little and I had a dentist yell in my face because I sucked my fingers. I was seven and petrified to go see him again so I stopped. He was still a dick at my next visit so, really, I should have enjoyed my fingers for awhile longer because after that, I started biting my nails and they looked horrible for years.

I held my tongue with my son when he turned 10 and was still sucking away as if he had lollipops for fingers. I didn’t want to be like the asshole dentist and I loved our pediatrician; she was always calm and gave me great advice and she helped me realize I wanted him to stop for social reasons, as his health wasn’t being compromised in any way.

If you do have a finger or thumb sucker, I do recommend talking to an orthodontist or dentist you trust (as I did) to make sure all is right with your child’s mouth because extended thumb or finger sucking can potentially (not always) lead to dental issues.

My main worry was that his finger sucking might damage his self-esteem, or he was doing it to cope with anxiety.

But then, one day, he just stopped. It was as if a switch in him turned off and he didn’t want to do it anymore.

My son sucked his fingers for a decade. For many of those years, I was worried, thinking maybe I’d weaned him too early, or wasn’t giving him enough attention, or maybe I’d failed him by not rocking him to sleep enough and now he was dependent on sucking fingers to self-soothe and would have to do that for the rest of his life.

But I was wrong. He is fine. His teeth and mouth are fine. He may need braces at some point, but for now, the orthodontist is just keeping an eye on things.  His big brother and sister needed braces too, and they only had a pacifier until around three or so.

My son can still fall asleep on his own. He doesn’t have an addictive personality (so far), and he is happy and well adjusted — it didn’t stunt anything. Turns out extended thumb or finger sucking isn’t all that uncommon either.

Lisa J. told us her daughter sucked her fingers for a very long time and was the only one of her kids who didn’t need braces. Rhonda T., a mother of three,  said she had one thumb-sucker who had wonderful teeth, while her other two children, who never sucked on anything and needed braces for almost two years.

In some cases, thumb-sucking actually helped a child’s mouth and teeth development. Jennifer H. said her orthodontist told her it spread out her child’s palate.

And while most kids eventually do stop; some don’t and that’s just fine. Kaity M. says at 34, she still sucks her thumb. (Side note: she has never needed braces.)

So, if you have a child and you are starting to wonder if maybe they should have given up their finger sucking by now, hold tight and don’t nag or shame them about it.

They’ll do it when they are good and ready. Also, they are going to be just fine.