Helping your kids break bad habits


Biting, thumb sucking and nose picking can be hard habits to break. Often, parents get frustrated and don't know where to start.

Here are a few tips to try-and a few things not to do-to bust those bad habits.

This article is not intended to provide medical advice.



Biting is very common among kids between 18 months and 3 years old, often because they can't express themselves well with words and biting quickly gets a message across. Most biters stop, but here are some tips for the child who makes it a habit:

Try to find a pattern. Is it a certain location, time, person or situation?

In a stern voice say, "It is never OK to bite. Biting hurts. See, Ashley is crying. I cannot let you bite another person."

Allow the biter to see that the injured child is being helped and to assist in helping.

Ask the biter to apologize.

DO NOT bite the offending child to show that it hurts. This only models unwanted behavior.

Biting is usually not a sign of future behavior problems, but if your child continues biting after age 3, discuss it with your pediatrician.


Thumb sucking

Infants are naturally soothed and comforted by sucking, and most babies suck a thumb, finger or pacifier at some point. Most kids will stop without any help from a parent, but for some kids, thumb sucking persists and eventually can lead to dental problems. Even when a child wants to stop, thumb sucking can become a mindless activity.

Here are some tips to help your child stop:

Try to get buy-in from the child. It may help to use examples they can relate to: "Does Barney (or other favorite character) suck his thumb?"

Try to replace the thumb or fingers with a blanket or stuffed animal to hug.

Give reminders: Ask "Do you know you are sucking your thumb?" or apply tape or a Band-Aid to the thumb as a reminder.

Give a star for every day (or hour) without thumb sucking. Then allow the child to buy a special toy with the earned stars.

If all else fails, teach your child to limit thumb sucking to the house or the bedroom.

DO NOT be too restrictive because it can cause anxiety and have the opposite effect.


Nose picking

Kids with allergies tend to pick their noses the most because a heavy flow of mucus can dry and crust inside the nose, giving them a "something's up there" feeling. Nose picking can cause nose bleeds and also spreads germs. Try these tips to break this bad habit:

Address any allergies.

Have your child drink plenty of fluids to avoid the build-up of dried mucus.

Keep nails trimmed so that dirt doesn't build up behind them.

Encourage hand washing.

Keep plenty of tissues available and encourage nose blowing and nose wiping.

If all else fails, teach your child that this is a private activity and not to gross out other people by doing it in public.

DO NOT publicly call out your child for picking his nose.


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