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No, I did not say that!

Big Sister (in a sweet voice): Can you put the milk away for me?

MOMMY, Maddie’s treating me like a servant!”

– Nathan, age 5


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No, I did not say that!

Dad: What are you doing back there?

Child: I’m NOT picking my nose.

Dad: Well, what are you doing then?

I’m picking my boogies!”

– Charlie, age 2

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We have all seen it. Your child picks his or her nose and it goes straight to their mouth. Gross right? What is more concerning is that the mucous membranes in a child’s nose are the susceptible to infections! Germs, germs, germs. Germs on the fingers can lead to small skin infections inside the nose, and fingers that have been in a nose are a great way to spread colds and flu.

Why do kids pick their nose?

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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.

What Causes a Habit?

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:

  1. When they’re relaxing, such as before falling to sleep or listening to music.
  2. 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.
  3. Studies suggest that nail biting may have a strong genetic component.
  4. 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).

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Whether you are a parent or not, kids have bad habits that can be annoying.  After mom blogging researching and investigating medical articles for backup, the 4 most common ones that children develop and parents tend to complain about are:

Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons picking his nose. By Matt Groening.

1.   Nail biting
2.   Thumb sucking
3.   Hair twirling
4.   Nose picking

Although your child’s habits may be a nuisance or even agonize you, relax! For the most part, a habit is just a phase in the normal developmental process and is NOT cause for alarm.

What’s a Habit?
A habit is a pattern of behavior that’s repeated, and the person or child is not usually even aware of it. What can be an issue for parents is that kids may be blissfully unaware of a habit!  If your child is sucking their hand and the other hand is entwined in hair, do not worry – habits tend to occur in bunches. 

Nail Biting
If nails chewed to little chiclets are familiar to you, you’re not alone. One of the most customary childhood habits is nail biting or picking.  Some studies estimate that 30% to 60% of kids and teens chew on one or more fingernails. Sometimes, a child may also bite his or her toenails.  Studies show that boys and girls are similarly prone to the nail biting habit in earlier years; however, as they get older, boys are more likely to be nail biters.

Hair Twirling
If one of your kids is a hair twirler, it is most likely your daughter. The majority of children who twist, stroke, or pull their hair are girls.

Hair twirling may appear in early childhood as a precursor to hair pulling, but many hair twirlers and pullers stop as they get older.  For kids who are unable to break this habit as they grow older, it is typically a sign of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Nose Picking
Nose picking is a childhood bad habit, which typically lingers into adulthood. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry article “Rhinotillexomania: psychiatric disorder or habit?” a 1995 study into nose picking, requesting information from 1,000 randomly selected adults, gathered 254 respondents. It defined nose picking as “the insertion of a finger (or other object) into the nose with the intention of removing dried nasal secretions”. Of those who responded, 91% said they were current nose pickers (but only 75% of these believed everyone did it) and two people claimed to spend between 15 to 30 minutes and one to two hours a day picking their nose. Crazy right?

Thumb Sucking
Why the popular thumb over the index finger? Flavor? Just kidding. Most studies show that the preference for thumbs is an accidental choice, resulting from the thumb coming into contact with the mouth during random movements made by an infant.

Not the thumb for your kids? Some children also suck their fingers, hands, their whole fist, or switch up hand parts at various times for a tasty selection. Many kids suck their thumbs to calm and comfort themselves. The American Dental Association says that thumb sucking does not cause permanent problems with the teeth or jaw line unless it is continued beyond 4 to 5 years of age. If your child sucks his or her thumb intensely or too past age 5 it can cause problems such as an overbite (dental problem), hand infections or teased by peers.

By this time, you might be asking yourself 1) what causes a bad habit? 2) how do I break my child of this habit? Read Part 2 on Monday, June 28th on our Le Top Blog to get the lowdown on bad habit breaking tips!

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