Force Of Habit: How To Deal With Bad Habits in Children

Force Of Habit: How To Deal With Bad Habits in Children

Kids have the strangest habits. Your child may have a mannerism that drives you bananas. Does he (take your pick) suck his thumb, bite his nails or pick his nose?

Help your little one get over these icky antics. Here are practical bad habit-killing tips.

Hair Twirling

The repetitive motion has a self-calming effect. Girls are more likely to do it.

  • Why it’s bad: May give rise to trichotillomania, in which sufferers pull their hair, eyebrows or eyelashes out in patches. May signal stress or compulsive behavior.
  • Best approach: Distract. Keep hands busy with things that simulate the feel of hair, like feathers or ribbons. Help verbalize worries.

Nail Biting

This may be due to anxiety, stress, boredom or hangnails.

  • Why it’s bad: Dirty nails can increase the risk of contracting disease, inflammation or infection.
  • Best approach: Help your child identify and deal with the stressor. Offer alternative activity like playing with soft putty or smooth stone. Teach relaxation techniques. Provide a nail cutter.

Thumb Sucking

Provides comfort when tired, scared, bored, sick or adjusting to a new challenge.

  • Why it’s bad: Can misalign teeth, deform palate and bite, impede speech development; can lead to skin cracks, calluses or infection.
  • Best approach: Suggest alternative activities for hands, such as squeezing a ball or playing with puppets. Get him to tell you his feelings though talking or drawing. Adhesive strips can be wrapped around the thumb to discourage the activity.

Knuckle Cracking

Popping sound may be amusing. May also be from stress or anxiety.

  • Why it’s bad: No conclusive scientific evidence of effect of knuckle cracking on health.
  • Best approach: Identify situations when he resorts to knuckle cracking and tackle his underlying concerns. Give him a ball or other item to toy with. Teach relaxation techniques.

Scab Picking

To relive itch and to remove perceived skin imperfections.

  • Why it’s bad: Increases likelihood of infection and scarring. Can cause impetigo, a skin infection.
  • Best approach: Apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a bandage strip for faster healing.

Nose Picking

Nose may be clogged due to crusted secretions from a cold, allergies or sinus infections.

  • Why it’s bad: Dirty fingers can cause infections in the nose and can spread colds and flu. Over-picking can also lead to abrasions in the nose and subsequent bleeding.
  • Best approach: Treat the cold or allergy. Encourage frequent hand washing. Always provide a hankie or tissue to wipe his nose with in private. Keep hands busy with crafts, arts or puzzles.


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