Breaking bad habits

It is normal for a toddler to develop bad habits. If you want them to stop, it helps to know why they develop. Your toddler might revert to habits like thumb-sucking to soothe him when he is tired or insecure.
Nail-biting, nose-picking and biting may appear when he is nervous, frustrated or unhappy. Most of the time toddlers outgrow their bad habits. A toddler may do one or more of these:
  • Thumb and finger sucking
  • Biting nails
  • Head banging, head rolling and body rocking
  • Nose picking
  • Hair twirling
  • Breath holding

A few tips on handling bad habits
  • Ignore the behaviour and think about how you want to react.
  • Offer her something else to do that will require her to get her thumb out of her mouth like blowing bubbles or playing a game together, but do this without mentioning her thumb sucking.
  • Give your child more attention overall. Do not increase your attention only after observing the “bad” habit; to do so would just make the child associate the habit with getting more attention.
  • Make the bad habit less pleasurable. For a girl who pulls her hair, try a hairstyle that makes it hard to get at her hair like a plait or ponytail.
  • For the child who engages in raucous head-banging at bedtime, pad the headboard or crib. (Even though head-banging sounds anything but pleasurable to you, it is a tension reliever for the child.)
  • Nail biting is another common habit: keeping the nails short and the cuticles softened and trimmed may help.
  • Breath holding is a more serious bad habit and should be discussed with your paediatrician.
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