Q: My children — a girl, 12, and a boy, 9 — still suck their thumbs.

As a baby, the girl was difficult to get to sleep. When at about age 1 she started sucking her thumb and sleeping through the night, we were grateful. But now the habit is a curse.

My daughter does well in school and participates in sports and other activities. She has many friends and is a happy person.

She has concerns about puberty but no more than we expected. She and my wife have a very open relationship, and they can talk about any topic.

My daughter only sucks her thumb at home and not at school. It seems almost like a smoker needing a cigarette. I thought about taking her to a psychologist but have not acted yet. She now needs braces as well because of the thumb-sucking.

As for my son, I may be able to reach him, but I’m not sure. — Via email

A: Your children are lucky to have you two as parents! Given that wonderful open relationship they share, your wife can begin to explore with your daughter why she needs to comfort herself at home and not at school.

Your wife can ask how she feels about her thumb-sucking as a habit and whether she would like help from you two to try to stop. If she says no, then you can reassure her that she will be able to stop when she is ready, and that you can make suggestions when she wants them. Children her age who continue to suck their thumbs into puberty can learn how to stop when they’re ready.

If your daughter agrees to your offer of help, you can suggest that whenever she feels the urge to suck her thumb, she can use a “lovey” (a piece of silk, jewelry, a beloved animal or blanket) to stroke, or to rub against her face. Preferably, the object is something she can carry in her pocket when she is at home. Ask her whether she wants you two to remind her to use it or not, and then follow her wishes.

She doesn’t seem to worry at school when she’s with her friends. That’s a clue that she may need her thumb only when she’s bored, inactive or has time to worry.

If your daughter is willing to share her concerns, your wife can begin to address them — slowly and patiently, always letting your daughter lead her. At her age, there could be many worries such as approaching puberty or the transition to high school. Being able to share worries like these could be an enormous relief to her.

It certainly isn’t too late for you to try to reach your son the same way. He may have a similar need to share his concerns with you, and he’ll do so if he knows you care, and you encourage him. Then you can offer him the same opportunities to address his thumb-sucking that your wife has done with your daughter. But go slow, and let him lead you.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, NY 10018. Questions may also be sent by email to:

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