With New Year, resolutions to form new, good habits are abundant. But what about habits that aren't the best for your child to pick up?
It doesn’t take long for a child to develop a bad habit. In fact, many habits begin shortly after birth. While parents should be aware of what a bad habit looks like as it’s forming, they should also know how to help their child break the pattern before it becomes a more serious problem.
The following are three of the most common habits among kids and some suggestions for breaking them.
Thumb-sucking is one of the earliest developed habits, usually starting at infancy. Tae’Ni Chang-Stroman, MD, of Kids First Pediatrics on Rt. 30 in Dyer, recommended deterring your child from thumb-sucking from the start. “Try to have them use a pacifier instead” because pacifiers can be taken away, whereas the thumb is always there, making the habit much more difficult to break.
“If they already have the habit,” said Stroman, “don’t do anything with it until they’re five or six years old.” You can try to limit the behavior by telling your child he can only suck his thumb in his room or some other space, but according to Stroman, it’s not worth trying to stop it entirely. “Psychologically they can’t break the habit until they’re five or six,” he said. That is the age that kids begin school and will learn from their peers that thumb-sucking is socially unacceptable.
Some other tactics are to show them pictures of kids whose teeth are damaged from sucking their thumbs, or to put bitter-tasting flavors on their thumb.
This habit is notoriously a tough one to break, which is evidenced by the large number of adults who bite their nails. “Kids usually get this habit from their parents,” Stroman said. Parents of girls might be able to lure their daughters away from nail biting by offering to paint her nails if she doesn’t chew on them. “With boys it’s tough,” however, said Stroman. “They’re going to do it no matter what.”
Sometimes an infection called paronychia can develop as a result of nail biting, so that knowledge, or the occurrence of the infection itself, may keep kids from biting their nails. One parent interviewed had success by putting bitter-tasting, clear, no-shine polish on her child’s nails.
Biting or Hitting Other Kids
Unlike the above habits, biting and hitting are serious behaviors and should be nipped in the bud early. The key is to do so without making a scene.
When a kid bites you or someone else, Stroman recommends putting him in his crib, closing the door and leaving him there for one minute per age (if he’s one year old, he stays in the crib for one minute, if he’s two it’s two minutes, etc.). After the time frame is up, take him out of the crib and walk away without saying anything. (At the most, you can say, “No biting.”) Do this every time he bites or hits.
“They bite for effect,” said Stroman. “They’re mad at you so they bite you, or they want you to get mad so they bite you. They want attention.” Therefore, if you respond by biting them back (as many recommend) or yelling, they’re getting the attention they crave and will continue the habit.
Breaking a child’s habit can be difficult and exhausting. Stroman said staying calm is the key to success. “Is it worth fighting about? If not, don’t even start the fight. If it’s a habit where they harm themselves or others, you do have to stop it. But be very low-key. Don’t get overly emotional about it or you’ll lose focus. Be calm and constant. They have to choose to stop on their own.”