When an action becomes a source of comfort to a child, when it receives attention from parents or people around them, or when it gives pleasure, it becomes a child bad habit. Breaking bad habits for a child is a matter of understanding why your child has developed this habit, and helping them to reduce it over time.
How to Stop Bad Habits
- Let them grow out of it naturally: Many child bad habits are part of growing up. As children grow and interact with more people, they may not like being laughed at for those habits, or they may want to be like the others, leading them to stop bad habits on their own. Ignoring a habit often denies them of the attention they are seeking by doing it, and they will stop.
- Understand the reasons for the child bad habit: Children often repeat bad habits when upset, scared, sleepy, or insecure. Identifying the feelings that lead to this bad behavior can help you treat the emotions, so they don’t resort to the habit.
- Start in small steps: If your child has a number of habits that you want them to stop, pick the most annoying or harmful habits first and work on those. Trying to break bad habits at one time is bound to make the child feel inadequate and harassed.
- Allow some control: Some child bad habits are developed when children feel that they have no control on anything in their lives. They use these habits to prove that they can do what they want, even if their parents don’t like it. Forcing them to stop bad habits only worsens this problem. Instead, offer them choices and responsibilities that make them feel in control. Letting them decide on what to wear, what to eat or drink, and what they would like to do in their play time can allow them to feel in charge of their lives. This does not mean not providing any guidance; offering them a choice between two alternatives, ‘milk or juice’, ‘red socks or blue’, ‘paint or draw’, is good enough for young children.
- Do not overreact: Some child bad habits are used only for the shock value. Acting shocked or surprised when a child does something like picking their noses or touching themselves in public will be amusing and make them repeat it. Try telling them in a normal or bored voice instead that people don’t like to see it, and they may do it in the bathroom if they wish but not in public. These tactics are much less fun for children and will lead to breaking bad habits.
- Talk to your child about the habit: Explaining to a child that they are putting germs into their mouth or nose can be deterrent enough to children sometimes. If the child bad habit springs from a physical or medical condition, such as an itchy nose, dry cuticles that snag on clothes, or itchy genitals, treating the symptoms can help reduce and eventually break the bad habit.
- Positive reinforcement: When a child stops a bad habit, praising them or rewarding them always works. Try making a chart with pictures that mark each day that passes without the child biting nails or picking their nose. Set a target for the child to achieve, with a reward at the end of it. And make sure you follow through on the reward. Avoid offering candies or other unhealthy treats as rewards: the most positive rewards are activities that the children enjoy, such as trips to the zoo, or being allowed to look at childhood albums.
It is important not to try to break a bad habit during a time of stress or sorrow for children. Most child bad habits provide an element of comfort or self-soothing for the child, and should be allowed to pass unnoticed during this time.