Family life

How my daughter stopped sucking her thumb

While Tracy went to extreme measures to get Anna to kick the habit, Anna had other plans.

IMG_1209[1] Anna got a full manicure once she stopped sucking her thumb. Photo: Tracy Chappell.

Follow along as Today's Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She's been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

I wrote last month about our attempt to break our seven-year-old of her thumb sucking habit by having the dentist put a “habit breaker” appliance in her mouth. This is an event that deserves a little blog follow-up.

As I mentioned, even though Anna was initially on board with getting the habit breaker, the experience of putting it in was traumatic (for both of us). The dentist got it in, but because Anna was hysterical, he didn’t get it in quite tight enough. Anna tried to get used to the thing (which really was more awful than I expected, with metal prongs that made it hard for her to talk and eat and, of course, impossible to suck her thumb), and I was proud of her for her lack of complaining as the day wore on. But within two days, the appliance fell out when Anna was eating tuna casserole at her grandma’s.

That was Saturday night. Our dentist had called the night before to check in on her and left me his cell number, so we called to let him know. He asked us to come in on Monday to get the appliance put back in. I told Anna.

“But I’ve stopped!” she insisted. “I don’t need it back in!”

“But you stopped because it was in there,” I tried to explain, gently, because believe me, I didn’t want to go through that again either. She explained that the taste of the cement they used to secure it was something she just couldn’t deal with again, and that she would be embarrassed to go to school with it. I totally sympathized (I hadn’t known the appliance would cause the problems it did with her speech and eating, and I know she didn’t want to tell her classmates why it was in).


“I’m not going to suck my thumb anymore,” she said with determination.

“It’s great that you want to try,” I said, “But it’s a really hard habit to break, you know that, or you would have stopped a long time ago.”

“Mommy, you have to believe in me!” she pleaded. “I can do this.”

How could I say no to that? I told her that I’d reschedule the appointment for a week later, and if she could truly kick the habit by then, she wouldn’t have to have the appliance put back in. We agreed that we would put her beloved blankets away (because they encouraged her thumb sucking) to help her with the transition, and that she would be truthful, and let me know if she was struggling and we’d figure out some strategies to help.

I still can’t quite believe it, but Anna has not sucked her thumb since. Not when she’s watching TV, not in the car, not when she’s reading or going to bed (and I peeked in on her many times through the night that first week and was shocked to see that her thumb didn’t find its way in there, even in her sleep). I still don’t know how she summoned the willpower to do this after many failed attempts in the past, but I guess it took the taste of that cement, and me spending several hundred dollars on a useless appliance, to do it. All’s well that ends well, I guess!


It’s been just over a month now, and I’m beyond thrilled to have this behind us. We still haven’t given the blankets back, because I’m nervous they will trigger it, and while she has occasionally asked for them, she might be over the need for them, too. I’m happy for her. One of the reasons I never pushed too hard for her to stop was because sucking her thumb was such a comfort for her, and she needed that. I didn’t want to take it away from her. But now, the timing was clearly right. It shows the impressive things she can accomplish when she really puts her mind to it.

I took her for a mani-pedi to celebrate and, for the first time, she got all of her nails done.

Have you helped your child kick a bad habit? How did it go?

This article was originally published on Jul 05, 2013

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