7 Tips to Correct Bad Habits in Children

Bad Habits in Children and Ways to Deal With Them

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rashmi Prakash (Psychologist/Psychotherapist)
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Picking noses, biting nails, grinding teeth and sucking thumbs are some bad habits that kids tend to pick on at an early age. This may come about as a coping mechanism for stress, boredom or it may simply give the kids pleasure. However, growing up, these habits can become problematic and it is best to groom your kids out of it at an early age to prevent further concerns.

Video: Bad Habits in Children & Ways to Deal With Them

Common Bad Habits in Kids

There are several bad habits that children engage in which may annoy many parents. While most kids grow out of it, some kids may harbour the habit for a good long time. Some of these habits also come with the added worry of hygiene and health concerns making the parents anxious to break them.

However, it is important to remember that patience is essential when trying to get the kid out any habit. Even the best of the parents can lose patience and end up reprimanding their kid for the habit. Negative attention to the habit may work against you and make the habit worse; likewise, shaming the kid can develop an emotional complex in his or her mind and make them discouraged.

Hence, the best course of action is to focus on the positive habits and rely on gentle reminders in the process of breaking the bad habits of your kid.

Here are some of the bad habits that are common in many children and some tips on how to correct bad habits in your children.

  1. Nail Biting

Many children develop the habit of biting their nails when they are bored, anxious, stressed or are engaged in an activity like watching TV or reading. Some children also tend to bite their nails because they are brittle and breaking off. Cuticle biting is also common due to dryness and rough edges around the nails.

What Are the Health Concerns?

Nail biting can be the reason for infections and bleeding as constant biting may lead to inflammation of the skin around the nail. Also, since germs and bacteria tend to collect under the nails, a constant nail biting habit can give room to germ intake causing infections.

What Parents Shouldn’t Do

Do not draw any negative attention to the habit. Do not tell your child that the habit is disgusting or his nails look unsightly. Ensure to not allow your kid to engage in digging up dirt using fingers, which may cause rough edge and nail breakage, prompting nail biting.

How Can Parents Deal With It

Since dryness can be a main concern, make sure that you take time to create a nail care routine that includes moisturizing the nails every day. Smoothen the rough edges using a nail file or emery board. Find out if your child is anxious or stressed, and is biting his nails as a result of that. Take care of any triggers that might be setting off his stress or anxiety.

Mother cutting baby's nails

  1. Licking Or Chewing Lips

Dry and chapped lips can cause the habit of licking lips to moisten them and chewing dry skin to smoothen the lips. Since the lips tend to get dryer when they licked and chewed, the habit continues and becomes a refuge for boredom and stress.

What Are the Health Concerns?

Regular and irresistible licking and chewing of the lips can cause soreness, discomfort and make the skin around the lips more prone to infections. The lips also appear red and the skin becomes irritable due to the habit.

What Parents Shouldn’t Do

Do not tell your child that chapped lips make him look unattractive as it can harm his self-esteem and make him even more stressed, which fuels the habit.

How Can Parents Deal With It

Provide your child with a lip balm for everyday use. If your child is in preschool, you may have to apply it on him yourself. If there are cracks on the lips, try applying the lip balm in vertical strokes to cover the cracks. Apply petroleum jelly or lanolin before bed to heal any cuts or cracks

  1. Nose Picking

Picking nose is a universal habit that is common for children in most age groups. While you may not be able to completely get rid of the habit, it is upon you to teach your child that picking nose in public is not acceptable and teach him or her to use a tissue to dispose of the contents.

Child picking her nose

What Are the Health Concerns?

Constant nose picking can increase the risk of nosebleeds, especially if the nails create cuts on the walls of the nose. Also, cold and respiratory viruses tend to spread easily from the fingers to the nose. When the child picks nose regularly, the inside of the nose tends to get sore and develop scabs, increasing the urge to pick the nose.

What Parents Shouldn’t Do

Try not to call attention to the habit by pointing out that is gross. It may cause your child to believe that he is being rejected by you. Sometimes, negative attention can aggravate the habit in children who enjoy provoking their parents.

How Can Parents Deal With It

Gently remind your child that it is not acceptable to pick his nose in front of others, and offer tissues to wipe off. In case your child has developed scabs or has a sore nose you can apply petroleum jelly on the centre wall of the nose to soothe it.

  1. Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is quite common in many infants and children under the age of four. While many children outgrow it, some may continue it for longer. Like most other habits, thumb sucking can also be due to boredom or because it offers a soothing experience to the infants and helps them sleep.

What Are the Health Concerns?

Chronic thumb sucking can make the thumb sore or develop calluses or hard skin around the thumb. It can also give rise to nail infection. In children who have had their permanent teeth come in, it can lead to the misalignment of teeth, creating the need for braces.

What Parents Shouldn’t Do

Do not shame the kid or punish as this can build negativity. If your child is under four it is best to let them grow out of it.

How Can Parents Deal With It

Usually children’s thumb-sucking habit works as a comforter, therefore you find other ways to comfort them. Keep your child intellectually engaged with activities and games. Give the child gentle reminders and rely largely on a positive reinforcement system, where the child gets rewards for not giving into the habit. You may also want to try dabbing bitter solution on the thumb or roll a bandage on the thumb to discourage the habit.

  1. Hair Pulling

Hair pulling is a habit that generally accompanies the thumb sucking habit and stops just about the time when your child outgrows sucking his thumb. However, if it continues beyond the thumb sucking, it may indicate a serious and chronic hair pulling problem called as trichotillomania.

What Are the Health Concerns?

Chronic hair pulling out of the scalp will develop visible bald spots on the head and may affect the child’s self-esteem.

What Parents Shouldn’t Do

Don’t reprimand your child for twirling or fiddling with the hair. It is likely that cutting the hair short, covering the hands with mittens would not be effective as it only draws added attention to the problem.

How Can Parents Deal With It

The best way to approach this is to focus on breaking the habit of thumb sucking that usually accompanies it. However, if your child has a chronic hair pulling problem that persists, it is ideal to consult a paediatrician as it may be a symptom of underlying causes like depression.

  1. Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is a habit that usually presents itself while your child is sleeping. While there is no clear understanding of why it happens, it may be due to anxiety or stress, or even a subconscious attempt to fix an irregular bite. However, this habit is most likely to continue into adulthood as well.

Child Grinding Teeth

What Are the Health Concerns?

Children with teeth grinding habit tend to exert a lot of force on their jaw as they clench their teeth, which may cause headaches, loose teeth or even cause an ache in the jaw.

What Parents Shouldn’t Do

If you notice your child grinding his teeth while sleeping, don’t try and wake him up. It is possible that your child is completely unaware of the habit and waking up abruptly will only cause confusion in the kid’s mind.

How Can Parents Deal With It

Regular dental check-ups and home dental care can help you keep a check on any damage caused to the teeth. Help your child relax before bedtime by reading light bedtime stories, and making sleep time as relaxing as you can.

  1. Masturbation

As a part of the general exploration of their bodies, children tend to explore their genitals as well and often tend to play with it. This exploration becomes a habit just like every other habit falls in place because it offers a sense of comfort. While masturbation or playing with the genitals is not sexual for the children, it is important to instil in them the understanding that it is inappropriate in public.

What Are the Health Concerns?

There is no health concern associated with this habit, as it is a normal part of growing up. However, an intensely negative reaction by the parent to this act can cause emotional distress to the child.

What Parents Shouldn’t Do

If you catch your child in the act, do not react with strong negativity. This can hurt your child’s self-esteem and make your child feel guilty for exploring his body.

How Can Parents Deal With It

You can begin with educating your child about his body. If your child is younger than four, it is better to distract the child with a different activity. Once your kid is older, you can teach him that it isn’t appropriate in public.

However, in case your child engages in compulsive masturbation or tends to touch other kids inappropriately, you will need to consult a doctor as the child may have been subject to sexual content or abuse.

The key to breaking bad habits is patience, and simple, yet consistent steps. Understand the severity of the habit, identify the cause, offer distractions, motivate the child, provide rewards and do not react negatively. When it comes to bad habits for school children, it can be a cause of special concern, as they may get cornered by their peers. Hence, exercise patience, and focus on alleviating the cause behind the habit.

Also Read: Personal Hygiene Habits to Teach Your Child

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