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Jenna confesses 2 of her kids suck their thumbs — and sometimes she does, too

TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager  shared her personal story with thumb-sucking; here’s what parents need to know about this common habit.

If you struggle with your kids sucking their thumbs, TODAY's Jenna Bush-Hager is right there with you. And your kids.

“Every once in a while I wake up and I’m sucking it. Don’t tell anybody,” Jenna said, laughing and gesturing to TODAY viewers Friday.

Jenna shared that two of her three children suck their thumbs. Jenna’s kids are 8, 6 and 2 years old. 

So when should parents be concerned, and what should they do about it?

According to Dr. Mirissa Price, a dentist at Cumberland Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics in Tennessee and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association, parents should start conversations about stopping thumb sucking around age 3. After kids get their adult teeth, there is potential for changes in the jaw if they don’t stop.

“Something as simple as sucking our thumb can put enough pressure on the jaw and the teeth that it will change the shape and lead to a child needing orthodontic intervention,” Price said.

Talking to kids and positive reinforcement are good strategies for parents, Price said.  

“A lot of positive reinforcement can go a long way,” Price said. “Giving them a sticker chart, and a sticker every time they don’t suck their thumb, can be reinforcing; or even just encouraging them when you see them not sucking, giving them a lot of positive praise.”

Still, Price said it’s common for both kids and adults to be sucking their thumbs, especially at night. For adults, Price recommends getting to the root of potential anxieties that could cause the self-soothing habit, or using tools like gloves or bad tasting, but safe, nail polish.

One of the most important parts of conquering the thumb-sucking habit, especially for adults, is to normalize that it’s going to take some time to stop. 

“We really have to just be patient with ourselves and with our children as we’re trying to break it,” Price said.

Jenna said that mom Laura Bush used the age-old home remedy of putting bad-tasting gel on her thumb to get her daughter to stop the habit.

“It didn’t really work," she noted, "because I still do it.”

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