Ajay is 27 years old. But, as soon as he becomes anxious, he starts biting his nails. He indulges in this oblivious of his surroundings and the fact that those around may be watching him. He continues with this awful habit because it wasn’t corrected when he was younger.
A bad habit is usually an action that is repeatedly performed, often without the doer being aware of the fact that he is doing it. Children pick up bad habits due to several reasons. For example, to soothe themselves when they feel uncomfortable, like in the case of Ajay, or by repeatedly imitating an adult indulging in something inappropriate. Some of the common bad habits of children include picking the nose, biting the nails, sucking the thumb, twirling the hair with a finger, grinding the teeth, and biting and hitting.
Most of us have fallen prey to some bothersome habit or the other at some point in our lives. However, all of us, except a few, managed to rid ourselves of them as we realised that our habits were socially unacceptable and looked at disapprovingly.
What would you do if your child picked up a bad habit? As a parent, it is a wise move to act immediately. Here are some tips to help you understand how to make your child quit any inappropriate habit he may have picked up.
- Find the root cause: Find out what is causing your child to indulge in a particular habit. Is he indulging in it because he is feeling nervous, stressed out or even excited about something? Grinding the teeth and biting the nails are two common practices that most children resort to when they feel this way. Looking out for pointers can help you understand the reason behind an inappropriate habit and come up with strategies to correct it.
- Explain and educate: Rather than just expecting your child to get rid of the habit by herself, talk to her about it. Explain to her why she should get rid of the habit. Tell her about the possible unhealthy and negative outcomes that can result from it. If you feel this is not working, then consult a professional for help.
- Praise and reward: An effective way to get your child to let go of a habit is to encourage him to try to stop. And, when he does, provide ample praise. You may even offer him a small reward for his attempt. For a younger child, you can create a chart with stickers or stars. Every time your child succeeds in consciously restricting himself from performing the act, you can place a star on the chart. And, once he collects enough stars, give him a treat of his choice.
- Create a code: While you are in the process of helping your child get rid of a habit, avoid reminding her constantly to not perform the action. This way, you may end up embarrassing her by repeating your warning when both of you may be in a social gathering. To prevent such an undesirable situation, both of you can come up with a secret word or action. When you are in a public gathering, and the situation arises where you need to remind your child to not engage in the habit, just use the secret code. This would work perfectly for both of you.
- Distract and deviate: When your child shows an indication of repeating the prohibited action, try and distract him. For instance, if you think that he may begin chewing his nails or grinding his teeth, change the topic or let him move away. You could also set down some rules to follow or offer an alternative. For example, if he is used to sucking his thumb before he falls asleep, you could ask him to sleep hugging a soft toy to experience the same sense of comfort.
- Don’t punish and shame: Make sure you don’t resort to punishing or shaming your child in order to break the habit. This might have a reverse effect, where she might take to the habit even more aggressively out of stress and fear. So, don’t over-react. Instead, be firm and consistent in setting rules and making sure that you follow them. Your continuous love and support through the weaning off process will help your child develop emotional stability, which will make it easier to quit the habit.
- Don’t hurry and hurt: Letting go of a bad habit is a slow process. So, don’t expect your child to correct himself overnight. Stay calm and patient while you give him reminders. Using a gentle and persuasive approach will make the process less stressful for your child. If your child has more than one habit that needs to be reformed, try to get rid of them one at a time. Remember, a harsh approach can complicate matters instead of resolving them.
Don’t be alarmed that your child has picked up a pesky habit. He is most likely unaware that he is unwittingly indulging in something inappropriate and may not know how to break the loop. So, help him through the process with plenty of support and motivation.
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