How to Correct 5 Common Bad Habits in Children

Written by Jeff Langston on . Posted in Blog

As children work through different stages of development, they pick up a few bad habits along the way. Most of these are natural expressions of new feelings, abilities, and stresses that come along with each stage. Some of these behaviors are naturally occurring, and others are learned.

Teach your children healthy ways to overcome each of these bad habits to help prepare them for daycare, preschool, and life.

Lying

When your children are small, there is little difference between a lie and their vivid imaginations. Most small children don’t really understand what it means to lie, let alone why it is bad.

Create a safe space for your children to tell the truth from a young age. Try not to set up situations where your child might feel like lying is their only choice.

For example, if you see your child break another child’s toy, don’t ask your child if they broke it. Address the issue, then move on.

Don’t call your child a liar or give out excessive punishments for lying at first. Your child might start coming up with more complicated lies to avoid the punishment in the future. Make sure the punishment fits the crime.

If your child honestly owns up to a mistake, praise them for being truthful. Work together to solve the problem or mistake, and make sure any given punishment makes sense and serves to reconcile the problem.

Nose Picking

Essentially every child (and some adults) picks their noise from time to time. Whether they pick their nose and eat the contents or wipe their dirtied fingers on your favorite chair, your child’s nose picking habit might cause you a bit of distress.

Most respiratory illnesses are spread from the hands to the nose, and your child can introduce germs to their eyes when they pick their nose then rub their eyes. They can even develop sores and scabs inside their noise if they pick their nose too often.

Skip out on phrases like “gross” or “yucky.” These phrases only encourage a young jokester to provoke you even more. Sensitive children might also feel rejected by these words.

Don’t make a big deal of the habit. Offer your child more preferable alternatives. If you start to see your child pick their nose, offer them a tissue and teach them how to properly use it. Follow up by washing their hands and talking about how clean hands help them stay healthy.

Hitting and Biting

Children have a limited vocabulary, which makes it difficult for them to accurately express the complicated emotions they experience. As they get angry or frustrated, it’s even more difficult to find adequate words. This often leads to physical aggression as a form of expression when they get stressed or angry.

After an incident, separate your child from the situation. If you try to make them immediately apologize while they are still in a highly emotional state, their tantrum and violence might continue. Give them a short time-out so they can have a chance to calm down.

After a few minutes, talk to them about why biting, hitting, etc. is unacceptable. Tell your child that biting is bad because it hurts other people. Encourage them to express their feelings with their words.

Remember, beneath the behavior is some sort of emotional motivation. Ask your child to explain how they feel. After your child has calmed down, have them apologize.

Watch for specific situations that provoke your child to act out. For example, your child might get violent on long playdates. This may be your child’s way of saying they need space and alone time. Your child probably doesn’t understand their need for space, which is why they didn’t know how to properly express it.

Do your best to provide your child with the knowledge, tools, and vocabulary to express and address their needs.

Nail Biting

Many children and adults bite their nails when they are nervous, bored, or distracted. This mindless habit can seem difficult to break because children often bite their nails unconsciously.

If the habit continues, it can lead to inflamed skin and cuticles around the nail, infection, and bleeding. Your child might even chip their teeth.

If you draw attention to the habit or your child’s nails, they might become embarrassed or anxious, which can exacerbate the problem.

Instead, teach your child proper nail care. Create a daily routine with moisturizer and hardeners. The more they care about their nails, the less likely they are to bite them.

Bossiness

If you have a toddler who likes to tell other people what to do, your first instinct may be to squash their bossy attitude. Instead, take a step back and look at your child’s motivations.

As children become more aware of their needs and feelings, they start to assert themselves more strongly. With the right direction, they will become more aware of others’ needs and adapt their expressions accordingly.

In your efforts to curb any bossy tendencies, be careful to not imply that your child’s needs are unimportant. It is important for them to be able to stand up for themselves in the future. Teach them appropriate ways to express their needs. For example, instead of telling your child to put away their toys right now, politely ask them to do the chore. Explain the importance of the task. Remember, when they assert their needs and desires, they will mimic the language you use to assert yours.

Especially as your child gets older, never mistake signs of leadership for bossiness. If you see your child taking charge of a playdate, don’t assume they’re being bossy before you analyze the situation. Make sure they are not pushing others ideas away in favor of their own or dismissing other children’s needs. Teach them that a good leader can assert themselves without pushing others down.

As you work on these habits with your child, make sure other important people are aware of your efforts. Talk to relatives, teachers, and other caregivers about the methods you choose to use to help correct various behaviors.