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For the most part, thumb-sucking is harmless, unless it goes on for several years. Plus your child will stop sucking their thumb on their own and you won't need to intervene. However, if you and your pediatrician feel that it's necessary to take extra steps, here are some ways to encourage your child to quit sucking their thumb.

Identify situations in which your child is sucking their thumb. Are they tired, bored, or anxious? "Teach them how to verbalize their feelings so they can learn to identify those situations, and then, offer an alternative," says Liu. For example, if they suck their thumb when tired, offer alternatives such as a stuffed animal to help them fall asleep.

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Set attainable goals. Harwood recommends initiating a candid discussion with your child explaining the consequences of continued thumb sucking. The goal is to gain their "buy-in" on the plan to change what's become a bothersome habit. Of course, the success of this approach will depend on the age of your child. The older they are, the more likely they will be able to understand why they should stop.

Reenforce signs of positive change with small rewards. "Keeping a whiteboard or progress chart with a list of goals and rewards is particularly useful," says Harwood. And don't be overly critical of any setbacks. "Explain how setbacks are a part of habit breaking and that the idea is to move on and get back on track with positive behaviors."

Appliances may be used as a last resort. These include ventilated devices that attach to the thumb and prevent the actual sucking from taking place, which takes the pleasure out of the action, Harwood says. He also says that using an approved, bitter-tasting gel applied to the thumb can be helpful for some children.

Expert Tips for Helping Your Child Stop the Thumb-Sucking Habit