Sleep Sense

Implementing a reward-based training plan
can help kids give up the thumb

SARASOTA, FL – Thumb sucking. It’s a childhood habit many parents want to help their kids give up. While there’s no need to panic about the mental or oral health of a thumb-sucking child — statistics show that 91% of kids stop thumb sucking on their own by the age of 5, and the habit doesn’t damage teeth or the oral cavity until adult teeth start to come in at age 6 — parents can take steps to help wean children off thumb sucking.

According to Dana Obleman, internationally recognized parenting expert and author of The Sleep Sense™ Program (, a reward-based system is much more effective than nagging or punishment. “Bad habits are really hard to break, and it takes time and encouragement,” Obleman says. “Children are notorious for power struggles, and you don’t want it to turn into a battle of wills.”

Here’s Obleman’s four-step plan to help kids stop thumb sucking:

  1. Track when and why: Note the times your child sucks his thumb for a week, and look for consistencies like a certain activity or time of day.
  2. Identify the purpose: Does the thumb help your child deal with pain? Nervousness? Boredom?
  3. Replace and distract: Offer a replacement reward. A bowl of grapes is a great option for TV-time thumb-suckers, or a simple hug for kids who use the thumb to deal with shyness or pain.
  4. Chart your progress: A reward chart showing days with no thumb-sucking, accompanied by small treats like M&Ms or gummy bears, creates a visual reminder and motivation to reach the goal.

Bedtime thumb-sucking can be particularly challenging, so try tying a ribbon around your child’s thumb or using a light pair of gloves. For older children, try sharing a story about a tough habit you overcame. Strategies for dealing with more tough parenting challenges can be found at

About Dana Obleman and The Sleep Sense™ Program

Dana Obleman, mother of three and a professional child sleep consultant since 2003, has made numerous television appearances, been featured in national and local newspapers, spoken at multiple parenting trade shows and baby conventions, and co-hosted the popular radio program “Parenting Today.” She has degrees in Psychology and Elementary Education and is a professional member of the National Sleep Foundation.

Since 2003, more than 109,000 parents have successfully used The Sleep Sense™ Program to improve their children’s sleep. Unlike sleep training programs based on a philosophical stand on the issue of “crying it out,” The Sleep Sense™ Program accommodates different parenting styles. Parents get an easy-to-follow, step-by-step plan that allows them to make choices to determine the right approach for each child, and specific guidance on how to measure success.

Media contact: