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How to Stop Kids From Licking Their Fingers

By Tammy Dray ; Updated June 13, 2017

Constant licking or sucking of the fingers can cause permanent damage to the teeth as well as skin issues, according to the University of Chicago. And while occasional licking might be expected in very young children, you really don't want your kids to become used to doing it. Breaking the habit can be tricky, but it's not impossible -- and the earlier you start, the better.

Start with positive reinforcement. Look for situations when your child would normally suck his fingers -- such as moments of stress or when getting sleepy -- and praise him for not doing it. You might need to remind him gently to stop sucking and then say "thank you" or other words of encouragement when he stops. By putting emphasis on the positive, you will show him that not licking is a good thing and makes Mom happy.

Ask your child to wash his hands after handling food. Children might lick their fingers because they smell or taste like something they enjoy eating. This could turn into a habit so it's best to eliminate the temptation from the beginning.

Wrap the fingers with an adhesive bandage. Chances are your child favors just a finger or two -- like the thumb or the index finger -- so you only need to add a bandage to those fingers. Since your child might be licking his fingers without even realizing it, the bandage will act as a reminder -- once he puts the finger in his mouth and feels the bandage, he'll become aware of the action and stop it.

Tips

While many parents might frown on the idea, there are chemicals you can buy at the pharmacy to help curb this habit. These tend to be bitter-tasting -- but not dangerous -- products you can use to coat the nails or to rub on the skin. The idea is that the taste is so repulsive, it will curb the habit of putting hands and fingers into the mouth. The University of Chicago points out this might be a good option if the licking or sucking happens when your child is sleeping and you can't use other methods to stop it.

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