Licking fingers can be unsanitary and unpleasant to watch, especially if your child has a habit of placing her fingers in her mouth. Like other oral habits, finger licking may become a learned behavior that a child does without thought. When you want to help your child break a finger-licking habit, a sensitive approach that seeks to help and support your youngster should produce positive results.
Talk with your child about the benefits of not licking fingers so your youngster understands the reasons to stop, advises Pam Marshalla, author of “Practical Solutions for Home and Therapy -- How to Stop Thumbsucking and Other Oral Habits.” You might list benefits such as avoiding germs in his mouth, avoiding messy and sticky fingers by washing them instead of licking and appearing more mature because he doesn’t lick his fingers.
Encourage your child to remember not to lick her fingers. Tell your child that you will help her remember to keep her fingers out of her mouth, too. Explain that finger-licking can be a habit, meaning that it takes time to remember and learn not to do it anymore. Assure her that you will help her work on this goal.
Provide your child with an alternative activity to do when he feels like licking his fingers, if necessary. For example, he might wear a rubber band around his wrist and he could manipulate the rubber band when he feels like licking his fingers.
Monitor your child’s activities and actions to raise awareness of finger licking and to help her reduce this behavior. If you see her lick her fingers, you might say, “Oops! I see a finger in your mouth! Why don’t you go wash your hands instead?”
Award stickers on a chart for each day your child does not lick his fingers, suggests the American Academy of Pediatrics HealthyChildren.org website. You might award stickers for shorter increments of time for a struggling child, such as the morning, the afternoon and the evening. Once your child earns a specific number of stickers, reward him with a small prize or activity.
Comment on your child’s lack of finger licking when you notice that she reduces the behavior. This positive reinforcement will help your youngster feel successful and empowered to continue working to break the habit. You might say, “Great effort! I’ve noticed you’re really working hard not to lick your fingers!”