Sophie was on a mission. During a Thursday afternoon trip to Target last month, she stumbled upon a pink playhouse tent. Upon seeing the little pink indoor house, Sophie’s mouth dropped in awe. She wanted that tent and nothing else. Thinking quickly, I told Sophie if she wanted to bring the tent home, she’d have to earn it. … How?

She had to make it to Sunday without sucking her thumb (excluding during sleep since she is not consciously aware of it). If she did it, she could have the tent. Sophie was ready to go, determined not to suck anymore. That tent would be hers.

You will recall from earlier posts that Sophie is a thumb-sucker. Thankfully for us, Sophie is not a constant sucker; she only sucks when she has her trusty blankie with her. But this also meant that blankie traveled with her in the car and to preschool for naps, a habit we really wanted to break. So after quite a while of ignoring the issue, Bryan and I attempted to gradually wean her from the habit.

You parents of thumb-sucking children know, this is no easy task. Simply telling Sophie to stop sucking her thumb is not an option. I did not want to resort to scare tactics, devices or take away her blankie. So we were left with trying to find creative ways to stop – or at least lessen – the sucking. Hence the pink tent.

I’m sure there are schools of thought that say parents should not use rewards or bribery as an incentive for ceasing to thumb suck. However I also know Sophie is motivated by a challenge and, in this case, a want. So I figured this would be a way to test her resolve.

And she did it! Much of the key to the success was not having blankie with her 24/7. When Sunday rolled around, I took Sophie to Target where she ran to the tent box and picked it up with such pride. She and Bryan worked together to assemble her reward. And when it was ready, Sophie was in heaven. She has since had parties in her tent with stuffed animals and dolls. Books have gone in the tent for reading. It has become a secret hideout. And she even slept in it one night. True to the personality of our wacky animals, Bipp the cat also enjoys spending time in the covered pink palace.

It’s been a little over a month since the tent triumph. I will not lie; Sophie has not given up sucking the thumb completely. In fact, one day she was so determined to suck her thumb again that she marched up to Bryan and me saying, “I want to suck my thumb now. So you can put the tent away in the garage. I’ll get it again when I’m older.”

I do believe, however, that we are succeeding because she sucks her thumb WAY LESS than she did. Blankie is not constantly by her side. In fact, she rarely takes it in the car anymore and now leaves it home from preschool (which has also helped eliminate afternoon naps – another triumph!). And instead of waking up in the morning and carrying blankie to the couch, she now leaves it in bed. Even the sucking while asleep has lessened because her body is adjusting to the change in habit. Overall I think Sophie has really accomplished a lot and I’m so proud of her.

This experience has also had a huge impact on me as a mother. The day we went to Target for the tent, Sophie said to me, “Mommy, I don’t need blankie anymore because I don’t suck my thumb now. We should give blankie to another kid who needs it and doesn’t have a blankie.”

I heard these words and I lost it. Truly, I burst into tears that would not stop flowing. Little Sophie is gaining such a strong sense of self and confidence; wonderful things, but another reminder that my baby is growing up. Perhaps I identified with blankie, not wanting to be tossed aside because she didn’t need us anymore. Luckily, Sophie did not give blankie away. She sleeps with it and turns to it for comfort and security.

I think it’s safe to say that neither Sophie nor I are ready to give that up just yet.

47 Responses

  1. What an adorable photo and adorable tent. No wonder Sophie was able to achieve such success! Just looking at her face and the joy it conveys says it all. Great job, Sophie! You deserve the pink tent and more!

  2. My little G is a thumbsucker, too, so I feel you. He’s still too little too incentivize but I’ll keep that in mind for down the road 🙂

    1. Yes, G is too little. The dentist didn’t actually suggest she try stopping until close to 4. It’s too difficult when they’re little.

  3. I don’t have kids, so my opinions are based on what my friends do. ALL of them have used a bribery/reward system to help their children learn. I think it’s a great tool. And I love Sophie’s pink tent. Wonder if them make them in my size? 🙂

  4. Love the tent Sophie!! Leah, we’re going through the samething, only with a bottle. He goes all day long without one while at daycare, but as soon as the night clothes go on- he’s asking for it. It’s milestone I’ll like to see us get over- however, it know it’s his, much like Sophie’s sense of security and relaxation. They are so precious and grow so fast, I try my best to just ingonore the behavior-and focus of something that really matters. I think it’s WONDERFUL that you allow Sophie to continue to have her time with these coping mechanisms without ridicule and guilt

    1. Thanks so much! I really do not want to force the change on her. But I also want to be mindful of the fact that she is moving her teeth quite a bit. And with your little one, he’ll grow out of it soon enough. Sophie eventually gave up that evening bottle too. Just takes time.

  5. I want that tent — mainly just to enjoy something as much as you can tell she enjoys that tent! But I love her sense of reasoning with putting it away until “she’s older” because she wanted to suck her thumb. Smart, determined and giving — what a great combination!

    1. Thanks, Caryn. Yeah, she’s sometimes too smart for her own good! I mean, what are you supposed to say to that? Maybe I’ll send it to you!

  6. I’m proud of Sophie’s accomplishment. I know how hard it is to break a habit, so I think she done magnificent to do so well. Look how happy she is in her tent, I think it was well earned by her. I’m a firm believer in rewards or bribery to help children strive for accomplishment. You and your husband are doing great with helping Sophie break her habit. 🙂

  7. Aww! I know just how you feel about the growing up! My daughter used a pacifier and gave it up about a year ago without too much of a struggle, and when she did she replaced it with Mr. Monkey, who is of course the flimsiest of all her stuffed animals and was bought in some obscure gift shop in Maine by her Uncle. So he never leaves the house because I’m deathly afraid of losing him or getting him too dirty because I’m also afraid to wash him. It is so cute seeing him snuggled up with Riley though and every time she gets hurt or doesn’t feel good, he’s about the only thing that makes her feel better. I am not looking forward to the day when she doesn’t need him anymore!

    1. That’s so cute about Mr. Monkey! Isn’t it funny what they gravitate toward? You’re smart for keeping it in the house though. We’ve had a few near misses with blankie when it’s been outside the house. I shutter to think what would have happened.

  8. This post brought back the BEST memories! My daughter had a tent when she was about Sophie’s age and she LOVED it too–one of the best toys EVER. The only thing that would’ve made it more perfect is if it had been pink… amazing! Love the pic of Sophie with the tent, and I’m with you, I’d have lost it over the blankie, too.

    1. Thanks, Julia. I’m glad the post could inspire your own memories with your daughter. And I’m also glad someone else would have lost it too!

  9. This is awesome 🙂 While I’m not close to even attempting to see if my son will stop sucking his thumb I will keep this in mind in the future. Way to go mama!

    1. Thanks, Danielle. Yeah, it’s really hard to do when they’re too little. I wouldn’t have even pushed the issue so much if it weren’t from the dentist saying she’s pushed the teeth out so far that if she falls, she’ll likely knock them out. That would be worse!

  10. I will never forget the indoor tent my sisters and I had. You laid it over a card table. It was our favorite place on a rainy day. And even if Sophie hasn’t stopped completely, I think she showed tremendous progress when she made a conscious decision to suck and had you put the tent away. Good job, parents!

    1. Thanks, Julie. I know giving up any habit is grueling. So the fact that she’s made such progress is amazing to me. I’m proud of her. And I’m glad I was able to bring back a few of your childhood memories. Tents are the best!

  11. I think a creative motivator like the tent is perfect 🙂 Even if it didn’t “cure” her of it completely, the goal over all is to keep improving & have her feel that accomplishment, which she has!

    And never fear, even at 15 & 19, my girls still need their mom ~ just in different ways. This point was further emphasized for me this week as we were going through some heavy-duty issues, and I turned to my mom for advice. It really is a life-long “job”…

    Hope your gang has a terrific weekend… Denise

    1. Thanks, Denise. And I’m glad to hear that your girls still need their mama. I can only imagine that these instances just get tougher as they grow.

  12. Okay, this is embarrassing, but I shall admit it: I didn’t stop sucking my thumb until the sixth grade, when I went on a weekend trip to my friend’s family’s house in Vermont for a ski weekend and, as I was going to share a bed with my best friend, I didn’t want to get caught sucking my thumb. By the end of the weekend, merely two days, I had forgotten the habit completely.

    Then my daughter became a thumb sucker. Her dad tried to give her a pacifier, but she refused it. (she refused bottles, too. When I had to wean her at six months as I had to go back to work, she went straight to sippy cup. She told me a at the age of two, when she finally had the words to explain, that she hadn’t liked the taste of the rubber. !!!).

    My daughter held out, sucking her thumb for years and years, much to her father’s consternation. We were able to wean her off her big blankie—they became more like scraps that she could tuck into pockets. Then we weaned her off taking it in the car, out in the living room, etc., to the point that she did it less and less, but always went to it for comfort or when she was tired. And, it was always, always getting lost!

    Her dad wanted to force her to stop, but inside of me, I felt that we could encourage and help her, but we needed to respect that a part of her may need it. I am divorced. I am quite amicable with my ex but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier for a child to have her two favorite people not under one roof, and I thought that may be part of the reason she’s still doing it (or maybe my guilt came up with that explanation). Years went by. I reminded myself how old I was when I stopped, and I still turned out to be very independent, outgoing, etc.

    It finally came time for her to begin the march toward getting braces. She knew she could no longer suck her thumb when we would be investing thousands of dollars to straighten her teeth. I didn’t need to say or do a thing, she just looked at me one day and said “You know, they say you need to give it nine weeks to create a new habit and nine weeks to break a habit. I haven’t sucked my thumb in nine weeks, Mom.” Bravo, my darling.

    1. Kat, what a great story! Thank you so much for sharing yours and your daughter struggles and triumph with thumb sucking. I like that you both broke the habit in your own time. Honestly if it were up to me, I probably wouldn’t care that much since I know she’ll eventually grow out of it. But it’s more important to my husband that she breaks the habit. So I’m supportive, as long as she can keep her blankie because I’m not about to take away her security item.

  13. Sophie will outgrow her thumb sucking, so not to worry. But how wonderful that she set a goal and was able to earn her reward. Good for her, and her parents for helping her achieve that goal.

  14. What a little cutie she is!

    Riley and I had a deal. When she lost her first tooth, that meant she was growing up, and the thumb sucking was over. True to her word, she quit cold turkey in one day. The bonus was little brother gave it up shortly thereafter on his own, because he wanted to be growing up too! Seth was super attached to his blanket until the day he got his puppy, who now shares his bed. He was afraid the puppy would chew it so we put it away, and he’s never asked for it again. (And yes, I miss it most). Perhaps a puppy is order for Sophie? LOL.

    1. Thanks, MIchelle. That’s a great deal you had with Riley. I’d be all for a puppy. But I think my husband and four other animals would move out.

  15. Yay! The tent is adorable and I’m of a mind to use whatever works! What is motivation for one isn’t necessarily the same for the other. I’m glad you found the right “carrot”. Congratulations…and the tend is adorable! I’m glad she’s enjoying it!

    1. Thanks, Ann. You’re very right that people are motivated differently. I really didn’t want to use scare tactics or take away the blankie. So I think the tent was a good move for her too.

  16. What an awesome picture Leah! I think you have an extremely balanced approach to parenting and commend your approach to the thumb sucking. On a personal level I know first hand it is extremely difficult to give this up. Once in a while if I’ve very upset my childhood habit of a unique thumbsuck, whereby I suck my thumb whilst my index finger curls around my nose, returns en masse!Great job Leah!

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. It is so hard to break these habits. I’m a nail biter and I’ve been that way since I was a kid. Never outgrown it and I doubt I ever will. So the fact that Sophie was able to curb her habit so much already is commendable in my book.

    1. Thanks so much! She’s a brave kid. I like that she’s letting go slowly, but knows that blankie (and mommy) are always there for comfort.

  17. …. aww, Mom, I cried right along with you. The thing is, like others have commented, she will give it up .. and you will feel a wee bit sad when it finally happens because you know it’s the end of an era… and the beginning of another.

    I think the best part is that she “gets” and understands that, with love, you are letting her let it go on her own time … and that is one FABULOUS pink tent! 🙂


    1. Thanks MJ. It is a nice tent, isn’t it? Yeah, she is getting it and I’m proud of her as this is a tough habit. I don’t even care that she hasn’t stopped completely. She’s getting there on her own time.

  18. I think that pink tent was a great idea, Leah, and you can tell just from your last picture how much pride Sophie takes in her reward.

    By the way, I sure would’ve cried watching Baby Girl grow up like that, too!

    1. Thanks, Jolina. I think she loved it also because she earned it and was so proud of herself. And glad to know I’m not the only one who would cry hysterically.

  19. Leah, Sophie looks like a princess in her castle in that tent! Good for her for earning her prize by exercising discipline! As the mother of a former thumb sucker I can tell you, that must not have been easy for her. My son sucked his thumb until he was around 8! One time I asked him why he did it and he said, “Well, it depends. Sometimes I do it when I’m bored, other times I do it when I’m worried, and other times I do it just because.” The good news is, they do eventually stop. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Bella. I love that your son had such insight that he knew why he did it. And really, how do you tell a kid they can’t suck their thumb for those reasons? I know she’ll do fine and I’m proud of what she’s accomplished so far. Thanks for your words!

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