Last week I went over all of our memorable child bad habits from nose picking to twirling your hair – sound familiar? We have all experienced bad habits as children or experience it with our kids or even your friends’ kiddos. So what causes a “habit”? I explored and here is a little info from me to you.
Some might ask, “Why do my son’s fingers appear to be an extension of his mouth, and why is there always a propeller of hair circling above your daughter’s head?” Experts confess that the causes of a bad habit can be hard to pinpoint, but that it is a learned behavior. Habits may develop as entertainment for a bored child or, more commonly, as a coping mechanism to soothe an anxious one. The next time you see your child nail-biting or hair-twirling, try to identify if your child was recently stressed from an event or experience. If so, the behavior might be your child’s attempt to relieve tension just as you would by working out at the gym.
Other common reasons kids start/engage in bad habits are:
- When they’re relaxing, such as before falling to sleep or listening to music.
- Left over from infancy – Infant thumb sucking is a universal self-comfort behavior that has pleasurable associations with breast-feeding and fulfillment of hunger; hence, sometimes this bad habit continues through childhood up to age 5 because of its positive associations.
- Studies suggest that nail biting may have a strong genetic component.
- Lastly, some kids will engage in habits to draw attention or manipulate their parents. Sometimes if kids feel that their parents are ignoring them, they may attempt an irritating habit because they know that it will provoke a reaction from Mom or Dad.
Coping With Your Child’s Habit
Getting depressed that your child won’t break his or her habit? Not to worry! Most habits disappear or by the time a child reaches an age when he or she enters school, they will outgrow it!
Still unconvinced the habit will disappear? Here are some quick tips:
1. Calmly point out what you don’t like about the behavior and why.
Don’t yell or lecture your child. Instead increase awareness of the problem in a calm way.
2. Involve your child in the process of breaking the habit.
Ask your kids what they think they could do to stop the habit or if they want to stop the habit. Come up with solutions on how to quit the bad habit together
3. Suggest optional behaviors.
For example, if your child is a nail-biter, instead of saying, “Stop biting your nails!” try saying, “Show me how to give a thumbs up!” or “How do you give the peace sign with your hand?” This will help increase awareness of the habit and serve as a more positive reminder.
4. Reward and praise self-control.
This does not mean go wild and buy out the floor at FAO Schwarz or too much candy, rather something small such as a sticker. This way, your child will be motivated to break the habit.
Don’t forget, habits do not form overnight and take time to develop – likewise, a bad habit doesn’t go away with a wink reminiscent of “I Dream of Jeannie!” Be patient and your child will be booger picking, hair twirling, thumb sucking and nail biting free. Phew! That was a mouthful (pun-intended).