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.

A few tips to bust the biting, thumb sucking and nose picking habits that can be so hard to break.


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

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

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 helpedand to assist in helping.

Ask the biter to apologize.

DO NOTbite the offending child to show that it hurts. Thisonly models unwanted behavior.

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

Thumb sucking

Infants are naturally soothed and comforted by sucking, and mostbabies suck a thumb, finger or pacifier at some point. Most kidswill stop without any help from a parent, but for some kids, thumbsucking persists and eventually can lead to dental problems. Evenwhen a child wants to stop, thumb sucking can become a mindlessactivity.

Here are some tips to help your child stop:

Try to get buy-in from the child. It may help to use examplesthey can relate to: “Does Barney (or other favorite character) suckhis thumb?”

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

Give reminders: Ask “Do you know you are sucking yourthumb?”or apply tape or a Band-Aid to the thumb as areminder.

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

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

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

Nose picking

Kids with allergies tend to pick their noses the most because aheavy flow of mucus can dry and crust inside the nose, giving thema “something’s up there”feeling. Nose picking can cause nosebleeds and also spreads germs. Try these tips to break this badhabit:

Address any allergies.

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

Keep nails trimmed so that dirt doesn’t build up behindthem.

Encourage hand washing.

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

If all else fails, teach your child that this is a privateactivity and not to gross out other people by doing it inpublic.

DO NOTpublicly call out your child for picking hisnose.

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