EXPERT Q&A

How can I get my child to stop sucking his fingers?

Sucking fingers is a developmentally appropriate self-soothing technique for young children. CareNectar expert Mirella Alexis describes how to find new ways to help young children seek comfort so they can break the habit.

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Question

My son is in kindergarten and is still sucking his two middle fingers. He used to do it at various times throughout the day, but as he has grown, he now mostly does it at night to soothe himself to sleep. Should I be concerned, and is there a gentle approach to help prevent this behavior?

Answer

Sucking fingers for a child is a natural and healthy occurrence, usually a coping mechanism that children often use to soothe themselves. Babies have the instinct to suck their thumb, fingers, and toes—much like they suck on a pacifier to sleep or a nipple to eat. Many babies stop sucking their fingers instinctively as early as seven months or as late as two to four years old. Children can always revert to sucking their fingers if triggered by a stressor, such as a sibling being born, starting daycare, or any other impactful event in their life.

However, finger sucking can become a problem because it can lead to dental and speech difficulties for young children, much like sucking on a pacifier for too long. These difficulties may include gaps between teeth and a weakened tongue. It can also cause more immediate problems, such as skin irritation, redness, blistering, and soreness. Although some parents like to address the issue as soon as possible by choosing not to give their infant a pacifier, others recommend addressing this behavior before age three. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests consulting with your pediatrician for children five years or older.

Depending on your child’s age, take appropriate measures to minimize finger sucking. If your child is older, you can talk to your child about it in an age-appropriate way. Make sure to identify their triggers for this specific behavior and provide other coping mechanisms that provide soothing comfort. For example, if your child sucks their fingers to respond to stress or anxiety, you can offer to hug them or to hold their hand as a form of comfort. A stuffed animal for them to hold might work as well. Also, provide your child with positive reinforcement with comforting and uplifting words. If your child is younger, you can offer other things to put in their mouths, such as a teether toy, crunchy snack, or something cold like a clean spoon, washcloth, or toy. Find out what texture your baby likes best, such as silicone, wood, or cloth, and have those on hand for when they are needed.

Additionally, as you stated, your child sucking his fingers is him using a self-soothing technique, a tool he turns to that helps him calm himself. To learn more about managing emotion regulation for your children, view the Managing Emotional Regulation in Children Kit from CareNectar, which provides tools and activities that support your children’s development.

Finger sucking can be a hard habit to break, but most children stop instinctively at their optimal time. Don’t put undue pressure on you or your child to prevent it at a certain point. Just be ready to read their cues and give them options to choose from when they are ready.

You got this! And the CareNectar team is here for you!

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Meet The Expert


Mirella Alexis

Mirella has been a family and childcare advocate for nearly two decades. With her bachelor’s degree in early childcare education, Mirella immediately started expanding her portfolio as a professional nanny, early childhood educator, and newborn care specialist. She later obtained her certification in child nutrition, positive discipline, and child abuse prevention. She expanded her professional reach more in 2016 by taking on the role of labor and postpartum doula. In 2020, Mirella became the Vice President of The Nanny Sitter Fund. She’s excited to be bringing her passion for childcare to the masses, making child welfare everyone’s responsibility. Learn more about her at MirellaAlexis.com