All children have behaviors that comfort and soothe them. Sometimes these develop into habits that embarrass, annoy or worry parents.
Habits can start when a child is bored, stressed or tired, but they can continue after the reason has gone. Most habits are not a cause for concern and they usually go away as children mature, by themselves.
A habit might return during a stress or time of change, so let your child know this is OK and praise their efforts to stop or help them try again.
What causes habits?
A pattern of behavior that happens without thinking, sometimes and often is habit. Habits form when a certain behavior, in some way, makes us feel good. To get those good feelings, we keep doing it. A habit can sometimes cause problems, but it can help us cope.
When they develop habits, young children are usually normal behaviors for their age that help them feel relaxed and calm. They give children a sense of safety and control, and help them to cope:
- in new situations
- when they are stressed or worried
- at times of change
- when they are bored or tired
- when a parent is not there.
Until they learn other ways to feel OK, habits help children to feel comfortable. They can also be learned from others in the family or parents.
Most children, without parents doing anything, grow out of habits. If you ignore it, it often goes away by itself. But if a habit causes harm or embarrassment or gets in the way of everyday activities, there are things you can do to help children stop the habit.
Thumbs, dummies and other comforters
Baby’s first instinct is a sucking. It’s normal and healthy and linked to their need for food. The need to suck usually gets less with age, it is also a way they explore their world. Many young children suck on a dummy, a soft toy, special piece of blanket or their thumb. It can help them feel secure and safe, for example when in the care of others or at bedtime.
Many children bite their nails. They may be shy, still teething, anxious about something, shy or it may have just become a habit. Many children bite their nails when they have nothing to do with their hands or when watching TV. It doesn’t cause any health problems but may cause some infection and bleeding.
Most children pick their nose. They might start if their nose is irritated when they have a hay fever or cold, but it can become a habit. It doesn’t cause health problems and most children stop doing it in public when they learn it isn’t OK in front of others.
Pulling out hair
Many children stroke or twirl their hair. Most of them do it along with thumb sucking for comfort when anxious or tired, but some can pull out their hair so it can cause obvious bald spots.
If you are worried about your child’s habits or other behavior, talking with your doctor is a good place to start.