If they are not biting nails, they are excavating nostril contents, (and if you are really unlucky - inspecting and eating them too) or eating things off the floor. Some have a thumb sucking habit that is way past its adorable stage. If your child has one of these unattractive habits, smile for there are ways to curb it.
Psychologist Dr. Pat Spungin says that bad habits are often soothing mechanisms. Younger children don’t understand that it is socially unacceptable to have some of these habits.
Nagging has little to no effect. In fact, according to Spungin, it can make matters worse if nerves trigger the habit, as is often the case. She suggests observing the trigger; do they do it when tired, bored, anxious or watching television?
If a child does it unknowingly, a gentle reminder might help or you could agree on a subtle signal or code word for use in public. Extreme methods, such as daubing a sucked thumb with pepper are not advisable, according to
Rosen-Webb, a child psychologist.
She recommends rewards and positive reinforcement and above all, patience. Psychologists warn that children’s habits are tricky to break. Below are some of the most common habits;
Nail biting; Famous biters include Gordon Brown and Britney Spears. Some do it out of boredom or tension. At worst, it causes bleeding and infection. If nibbling intensifies, assess whether there’s anything particularly stressful going on and deal with that if possible. Divert fidgety fingers with a stress ball or play-dough. Bitter-tasting nail paints can be effective but are best used only if your child wants to quit.
Thumb sucking; This causes dental damage and leaves older indulgers with a rabbit-like appearance and vulnerable to teasing. Ultrasounds have shown fetuses thumb-sucking, but some children continue beyond toddlerhood because it’s comforting.
A hard one to break – rather than banning sucking outright – handle it in stages, insisting on only at home and at bedtime. Highlight that others will call them babyish, draft in the dentist warnings and use rewards. Pepper is mean unless your child wants to stop.
Nose picking; This is unpleasant – no make that vile – to see! There’s the potential smearing, inspecting and consuming of boogers.
One study suggests 91 per cent of adults pick their nose, so guide children to do it in private. Petroleum jelly can soothe any nostril irritation – a potential cause. Encourage using tissues to clear a nose and persist with gentle reminders and rewards.
Hair twirling and pulling; More common among girls, twirling is fairly harmless. Spungin advises asking yourself whether it matters that much. “You’re best leaving twirlers to it – try to ignore them.”
Hair pulling (trichotillomania) is more worrying - it can cause bald patches. It has effects that are more complex. if your child does this, consult your GP.
Fiddling with their privates; Done initially because it feels nice, this one thing will surely mortify you in public. With toddlers, calmly remove their hand and say no.
However, with older children it is better not to get physical. “If they want to touch their private parts, tell them they may only do it in their room, when no one else is there.” Avoid statements that might create hang-ups.
It’s not easy to help children since most adults have the same bad habits – children learn by copying. However, if they kick the habit early enough, in their later years it won’t be so bad.