How to break your kids’ bad habits

By: Health Local Staff Mar 22, 2013
breaking bad habits

From cracking knuckles to thumb sucking in public, here are some useful tips.

While your children may be your pride-and-joy, their sometimes-unsightly habits may be causing you to pull your hair out, or worse, begin biting your own nails. Have your gentle reminders turned into constant nagging? 

It is important to take a step back and remember the psychology behind the actions. Is the thumb sucking a way to soothe an otherwise anxious mind, or the hair twisting and knuckle cracking a way to relieve some tension?  According to psychologists who specialize in children’s habits, contributors to these parental button-pushers are generally a way to alleviate overwhelming emotions, which include anxiety, boredom or excitement.

If you are at your wits-end on how to break these habits, from cracking knuckles to thumb sucking in public, here are some useful tips.

Remember to Be Gentle

Harsh criticizing or yelling can cause anxiety and cause your child to turn to a soothing ‘bad’ habit even more for comfort. The best thing to do when your child is nibbling away at their fingers is to offer an incentive (not to be confused with bribery) or point out the appeal of eliminating the behaviour. Causing undo stress by shaming or punishing your child for the behaviour can only make matters worse.

Offer Lavish Praise

When you notice your child giving it their all do not hold back your praise, letting them know just how proud you are. Kids work very hard to please their parents, but recognize that a minor setback may occur. Don’t discourage when you notice they have fallen back into their old tricks, but praise them for the strides that have been made. Take notice when your child goes an entire day without biting their nails and offer up some incentive, like dinner choice or a movie for the evening. 

Substitutes and Incentives

If fingernail biting is the issue, have your child carry a small baggy of dried fruit or seeds to munch on as an alternative or substitute. Keep the fingers busy with Legos or painting and even offer a trip to the salon for a fun manicure and polish. Incentives work well in breaking any bad habit. Gently remind your child periodically how exciting it is that the possibility of a trip to the zoo or movie theatre is likely.

Bring on the Bubble Wrap

Some parents may see this method as trading one bad habit for another, but if you can stand the noise, give your child some small pieces of bubble wrap to keep their hands busy. Finger exercises and strengthening can be made fun and keep those hands out of the mouth and eliminate cracking. If the noise of popping the bubble wrap is too much for you, send them to another part of the house.

The key to helping your child break the bad habits is patience and love. You can’t go wrong by encouraging and praising your child for all of the good that they bring into your life. Focus more on what they do right and less on what is wrong, and you may just see a miracle occur.

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