My 4-years-old daughter still sucks her thumb while sleeping. How can help her stopping this habit?

I have tried to give her a pacifier, but she refuses it. She does not have this habit during the day and is also upset in the morning when she sees her nails are flaky and her thumb hurts.

  • When our daughter started sucking her thumb (a lot younger that 4), we gave her a dummy. Our rationale was that we can take the dummy away later, but we can't cut off her thumbs. When she turned 2, we removed the dummy from her (slowly). She whinged but eventually dropped the habit but did not go back to sucking her thumb.
    – dave
    May 6, 2011 at 19:33

7 Answers 7


It may sound weird but another option is tape. A friend of mine had the same problem when she was about that age and at night before bed her mother would put duct tape over her thumb to keep her from sucking it. It took a while but eventually it worked.

Just for clarity: Duct tape was used but it was put on in such a way that the child was able to easily take it off in the morning. The thumb was first wrapped in gauze so that only the tape on the bottom of the strip was actually on her skin.

  • Colorful adhesive bandages may be an alternative to tape.
    – Jack V
    Mar 30, 2011 at 21:26
  • Using Duct Tape on a child could very well be considered abusive! I would say that the best choice is to just use bandages. That is what worked for me when I was that young.
    – Squidly
    Apr 13, 2011 at 19:40
  • Unfortunately mine had figured out how to these off.
    – Karlson
    Feb 18, 2012 at 19:07

One thing that can help is to put a thin mitten on when she goes to bed. Since she only does this in her sleep, and it makes her thumb hurt, she'll understand that this helps her thumb not to hurt when she wakes up, and should accept the mitten.

(Although be aware that she might be sucking her thumb during the day as well, just not when you see it. Thumbsuckers quickly get very good at hiding their thumbsucking from others :-) If this is the case it may be more difficult to get it to stop, but don't give up.)

There are substances that taste bad, made to stop biting your nails, etc. However I find that these tend to "spread" so that everything tastes bad, and you get kinda used to the taste after a while (didn't stop me from biting my nails). You can try them, but I suspect the mitten will be more efficient and less annoying for your child.


It seems that your daughter really wants to stop sucking their thumb but habit sabotages her efforts at night. The following technique has been helpful for other children who wanted to quit.

Use an ace bandage and wrap her arm from 6 inches above to 6 inches below her elbow of the arm with the offending thumb. Wrap both if she sucks both. The wrap SHOULD NOT be tight! The goal is that when she bends her arm to place the digit in her mouth, the increased tension will be just enough to alert her to the behavior.

Another parent cut the fingers out of the child's glove leaving the thumb. He enjoyed wearing his special Michael Jackson glove even during the day.

  • The elbow wrap is a clever trick. And the Michael Jackson glove sounds fantastic. Jul 29, 2011 at 5:56

For starters, introducing a pacifier is the wrong approach -- it's another dependence, just as bad for her teeth, and worse -- a choking habit in a child with strong enough bite to sever it!

Try covering her thumb at night with an unpleasant-tasting but harmless substance such as hot sauce or lemon juice, or having her wear gloves/mittens to bed. It's just a habit... changing the feel of it should (hopefully) short-circuit the behavior.

  • A hot sauce could irritate her eyes, and lemon juice tastes good. :) Mar 30, 2011 at 8:28
  • Well, I prefer the mitten approach, but I'm told that irritates some people, so I tried to offer a variety of options.
    – HedgeMage
    Mar 30, 2011 at 8:29
  • 2
    The pharmacy can sell you something that is made for this exact purpose; some sort of foul-tasting stuff to put on the thumb. Mar 30, 2011 at 15:06

We tried the sauces and things but they got over the bad taste or wiped them off. Bandages and mittens worked. I think at one point we had a bandage under a mitten, since we knew the mitten would get taken off at some point.


Ask her what she thinks will help.

We did this with our daughter, and she opted for putting a sock on that hand at night. Which works pretty well.

I'm sure she's more willing to do it because she thought of it herself (with a little bit of gentle guidance).


The penny or m&m method: Give the child ten pennies (m&m's, raisins, whatever they like) at the beginning of the day. My Mom did this, and it worked wonders for the kids that were suckers. Each time the child was caught sucking, Mom would tell her (smiling) she owed a penny! For a five year old, the thought of being able to keep ten cents all for herself was very enthralling! The habit was broken very quickly, and now at sixteen and eighteen, my sisters are still very careful how they spend their hard earned money! ;)

  • 1
    Welcome to Parenting.SE, Hannah! This is definitely a good method during the day, but the OP's child is sucking her thumb while sleeping and not when she's awake. Do you have suggestions for helping with nighttime "accidental" thumb-sucking? Thanks again for your contribution :)
    – Acire
    Sep 3, 2015 at 12:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .