Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Children's Bad Habits

The five most common habits that children develop (and parents complain about) are nail biting, thumb sucking, hair twirling, breath holding, and yes, nose picking. Did that surprise any of you? Probably not! As a parent of three, I could probably add a few more unpleasant childhood habits to this list! Most parents get annoyed or worry about their children's bad habits. However, you may be relieved to know that, in most cases, a habit is just a phase in the normal development process and no cause for alarm.

According to Pediatric psychologist Dr. Tim Wysocki, a habit is a strong behavior pattern that is repeated over and over, and the child displaying the behavior usually lacks awareness of the habit. One of the most common childhood habits is nail biting or picking at the fingernails. Some studies estimate that 40% of children between the ages of 5 and 18 chew on one or more nails.

What causes bad habits? Experts admit they’re not always sure what causes a habit, but that it is a learned behavior that usually provides a positive outcome for the child. Habits may develop as entertainment for a bored child, or more commonly, as a coping mechanism to soothe an anxious one. Other habits, such as thumb sucking, may be remnants of infancy and may linger into childhood because of its positive associations. Still other children will engage in habits to attract attention or as an attempt to manipulate their parents.

The good news is that most habits disappear. Most habits are harmless, but if a habit affects your child’s physical or social functioning or persists even after you have calmly tried to eliminate it, the behavior may have a more serious emotional or physical cause. In these situations, you may want to consult your child’s doctor or a mental health professional.

Source: Bad Habits/Annoying Behavior, University of Michigan Health System, http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/yourchild/badhabit.htm