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Frequently Asked Questions: 4 Years

How do I get my child to stop sucking his thumb?

Babies are born with a need to suck, which provides both nutrition and comfort. Most children stop sucking their thumbs or pacifiers before age 3 or 4, but up to a third of preschoolers and even a few older children continue to suck their thumbs for at least part of the day. For these children, thumb sucking may help to relieve stress and can be soothing and relaxing, especially when falling asleep.

Frequent thumb sucking beyond age 4, however, may be a sign of insecurity or other emotional problems. It also can lead to dental problems. Moreover, some children can be teased about thumb sucking, both by peers and adults, which usually leads to self-esteem problems.

There are specific things you can do to help your child stop sucking his thumb, but keep in mind that this will only be successful if your child wants to stop. Try to be sympathetic and supportive, and don't criticize or punish him. Gentle reminders may be enough to reduce the frequency of the habit. Ask your child how he would like to be reminded if he forgets, for example, with a gesture or 'secret' word. Praise his efforts. Try giving him small rewards (for example, a sticker chart) for remembering not to suck his thumb. Gloves or socks on his hands at night will remind only him and not expose him to teasing by others.

If your child continues to suck his thumb, despite these interventions, or if the thumb sucking is interfering with his friendships or activities, discuss it with his pediatrician. If you have any concerns about his teeth, make an appointment to see his dentist.

How do I teach my child about strangers?

Unfortunately, the old saying "Never talk to strangers" isn't enough to keep children safe. Children may be confused by our use of the word "stranger." Children see their parents talk to strangers everyday, at the grocery store, at a ticket counter, even at their own front door. Children also may think that strangers are big, scary men who dress in dark clothing and lurk in the shadows.

It's important to give kids specific instructions about what they should do if a person they don't know approaches them. Here are some suggestions of clear messages to give your child:

  • Never go with anyone anywhere, even if you know the person, unless mommy or daddy says it's OK.
  • Never accept gifts from someone you don't know.
  • Never get in a car with anyone, even if you know the person, unless mommy or daddy says it's OK.
  • If someone you don't know offers you candy or a ride, run away and yell loudly, "I don't know you" or "This is not my dad" or "This is not my mom."
  • Tell mommy or daddy if someone you don't know offers you a ride or a gift, touches you, or tries to be friendly with you.

Regularly remind your child that he should never be shy about running away from someone he doesn't know. Let him know that it's OK not to be polite to an adult he doesn't know.

Start giving your child these messages early and often, and they will become second nature.

My child stutters and pronounces words incorrectly. What should I do?

All children pronounce words incorrectly as they are learning to speak. By 4 years of age, most children pronounce most of their words correctly but still may have difficulty with some sounds. Stuttering is also part of normal speech development for some children. Stuttering, an interruption in the normal flow of speech, is typically first noticed between the ages of 2 and 5 years, though sometimes can be noted as early as 18 months. Many cases of stuttering last for only a few months and most children who stutter will stop completely before the end of their childhood. Girls and boys are equally likely to stutter during childhood, but boys are more likely to continue to stutter beyond childhood. Only about 1 percent of children develop chronic stuttering that lasts into adulthood.

If you are concerned that your child seems to be stuttering or pronouncing many words incorrectly, talk with your child's doctor. Occasionally, the doctor may refer you to a specialist (a speech-language pathologist) for further evaluation.

If your child stutters, you can help at home by doing the following:

  • Speak to your child slowly and clearly.
  • Make eye contact with your child and use your facial expressions and other body language in addition to words to communicate with your child.
  • Be a patient, attentive listener.
  • Do not finish your child's words or sentences and do not interrupt.
  • Do not pressure your child to speak to strangers or perform in public.
  • If your child's life is stressful at home or at school, work with family members or teachers to provide a more relaxed environment.

Last updated February 13, 2007