As a parent, we naturally desire to help our children cultivate good habits with the hope of raising them independent and responsible human being. But it is not as easy as sound. Despite our best efforts and positive approach, we find many habits and behaviour of our children are really annoying,
Don’t you think as a parent it is the upsetting and embarrassing moment when your kids fall into any kind of bad habits? Though these habits are not serious medical condition and tend to disappear with the time. But as a parent, these habits nag us because they don’t serve a healthy purpose yet they don’t easily fall away. Some of the examples of these kinds of unhealthy habits are:
- · Biting or chewing nails
- · Pulling of hair
- · Nose picking
- · Teeth grinding
- · Masturbation
- · Banging the head
- · Lip chewing etc.
Indeed, these habits are unhealthy and gross looking. And no parents want that their child develops any of these habits. Unfortunately, so many kids get to fall into some kinds of the bad habit. What are these habits? How can we help our kids to overcome these bad habits? Read on to know more.
For my 3-year-old daughter, it was nail-biting and nail chewing. It was the happiest moment for us when our second daughter born 5 years ago. She has crossed her all initial mile-stone very smoothly. But as soon as she has turned 3, she has started biting her nail. One day, I had realised that I hadn’t cut her nails in a while, and when I took a close look at her hands, her nails looked like a quarter moon to half-moon. She also has slight redness and discomfort around her nail bed.
I was feeling upset.
I was ashamed
I was trying to find the cause why does this happen
I had no idea how to help my daughter to overcome this annoying bad habit. And as a helpless parent I yelled and say repeatedly “stop biting your nails, I cannot stand it”.
After an initial bumbling, I had decided to respond her problem in the positive and nurturing way. I had tried to explore the all well-known and lesser-known facts about the nail-biting. Here are some key points that I had gotten after an initial research.
· Nail biting is a kind of “nervous habit”. As a definition, “nervous habits are symptoms of an emotional state and generally, based upon the conditions of anxiety, insecurity and tension. These habits include nail biting, stammering, sniffling, and banging the head. The expert suggested that when trying to overcome a nervous habit, it is important to resolve the cause of nervous feeling rather than just treating the symptoms. Sometimes these habits can be hazardous to your health.
Second thing, nail-biting usually occurs as a result of boredom or working on a difficult problem. Usually, nail-biters do not bite their nails when they are engaged in social interaction or when they reprimanded for the behaviour.
· Scientists are not sure if nail biting is genetic but kids whose parents bite their nails are more likely to bite their nails too. Studies show this happen even if the parents stop doing it before their child is born.
· Sometimes nail biting is just a way of coping with minor stress or anxious feeling.
· According to a new scientific study that spanned three decades, “young children who suck their thumbs or bite their nails may be less likely to develop allergies later in childhood.”
· Another scientific study that has done for knowing the association between nail biting and psychiatric disorder in children and their parents confirmed that severity and frequency of nail-biting were not associated with any co-morbid psychiatric disorder.
After knowing all these facts I was feeling a little overwhelmed. But I had only one thing in my mind that there are some prominent reasons to do my best effort to stop my daughter’s nail-biting habit. And these reasons are:
It can make you sick
It can affect your smile and teeth
It will make your nail weird and uneven
So after taking few deep breaths, I had decided to work hard with a positive approach. Here is my 6 step plan that has worked for us, and hoping this will help others who are struggling with the same situation.
Step#1, educate yourself
I strongly believed that for dealing with any parenting issue (in fact with any other problem too) effectively and positively, it is mandatory to educate yourself, so that you can understand your child’s problem properly and its impact on your daily life. Learn about the underlying cause of an existing condition, the risk factors, prevention, and treatment options are good starting point to educate yourself. This step will help to prepare better for dealing with problem’
Like in my daughter’s case, I had explored all possible and reliable sources and gathered the information about “nail-biting”.
Along with reliable online sources (like parents.com, WebMD), “what to do when a bad habit holds on you”, a book written by Dawn Huebner is a great book to get guidelines for dealing with your child’s behaviour.
Step #2, Address the underlying cause of that habit or behaviour
Before approaching any further step, it is important to understand the underlying cause of your child’s unhealthy habit. This step will help you to identify times and situations when the behaviour more likely to occur. This thing will also help to think about whether there is any stress in your child’s life that you need to address. Sometimes it may be a result of simple boredom or a technique to relieve minor stress and anxiety. But in some cases, it could be a result of any serious family reason (like divorce) or place change.
To reveal the exact cause behind my daughter’s nail-biting habit, I had made a keen observation of her. And fortunately, I had observed, “she does it when she is bored”. Also, when she feels alone (especially when elder sister is not at home), she repeats it frequently.
Steps#3 make a heart to heart conversation
I believed a “good communication” is a key to making a healthy connection between you and your child. And when it is about to overcome the unhealthy habit, “listening and talking” is must to resolve the problem. Here are few tips that will help in making an effective communication with your kids.
- · Select an appropriate time when your kids are most likely to talk in good mood, initiate the conversation.
- · Always express your love and care for them.
- · Keep your expression, voice tone in positive and understanding manner.
- · Then begin a healthy discussion about nervous habits. What they are? In which manner they are harmful to your body? Use examples, read books together or watch an informational video about the same thing, are some creative examples that work very well in most of the cases.
Though in case of a younger child (like my daughter), when making a good communication may not work that well because of child’s age. Still, keeping a positive approach and explanation works very well to help the child from coming out through any bad habit.
Step#4 doesn’t punish or scolded
Nail biting is a common but unresolved problem in psychiatry, psychology, medicine and dentistry. And like all other nervous habits, nail biting is also a habit that cannot be stopped easily. Studies show, many of the children with nail-biting have already tried to stop it but they have not been successful. Many of the children with NB behaviour may be punished by their parents and family members, but threat and punishment may not lead to the decrease of nail-biting frequency, in fact, it may lead to increase in it. So, keep remember,
· Like all other nervous habits, nail-biting tends to be unconscious, so nagging or punishing your child for this is a useless strategy. If you pressure him to stop, it may turn out to be the opening shot in a wrong and exhausting power struggle.
· Also, it is mandatory that your child is ready to stop his behaviour. Unless he is not willing to do it, you cannot do much to stop this. First, convince your child with positive and nurturing ways (like the proper explanation about the nervous habits and their consequences) and then move on next possible solutions.
Step#5 Go on slow and “set the limits”
Unfortunately, when it comes to breaking the unconscious habits, we have to be patient while dealing it. As long as, your child is not hurting himself, your best bet is to wait out the habit. For me, the thing that has worked very well is the way “go on slow and set the limits”. Initially, I had set a simple rule “no nail-biting at dinner table” and I had reminder her every day. Gradually, this thing has worked and she has responded me very well, but not biting her nails at least on a dinner table.
Step#6 make a “quit plan” together
Definitely, this step depends on your child’ age and with smaller kids, it wouldn’t be a possible option. Still, there are things that can do together to help your child to come out with this unhealthy habit.
- · Know the triggers and try to avoid the situations that trigger the nail-biting.
- · Set a physical reminder that takes their attention to the habit the moment they do it. (A lighter touch on arm or a code word work best)
- · Some expert suggested that wear an adhesive bandage on your child’s fingertips or putting bitter tasting solution on fingertips help to prevent nail biting. (Personally, I did not like this idea…)
- · Use alternative ways or activity like silly putty to play on the long car ride or using smooth stone for while reading or watching T.V. might help in making the switch.
- · As it has been said “busy child is happy child”, and I had used these simple strategies to help her. As I know that “being bored” is the biggest trigger for her. So I had started putting extra attention on her free time. I had tried to keep my child engaged in creative activities (she loves crafting) to beat her boredom. And this thing has worked really well to help her come out through this unhealthy habit.
Few more things that need to be considered
Just take a deep breath and think:
- · Did you had ever tried really address to underlying cause of your child’s behaviour (instead of yelling or saying “just stop doing this”)
- · It there something that you and your child could do together positively and calmly that will help him to come out from this bad behaviour or annoying habit. (Ex. Make a reward chart together, does some creative activity together when your child urges to bite his nails)
- · Are you overreacting to your child’s behaviour without understanding the whole situation?
- Of course, as a human being, we all do mistakes. The aim of these questions is to simply help you figure out where you are? And what you can do to help your child to come out through this problem.
Remind him and yourself that it is hard to break an unhealthy habit. Take a break if you need it. Also, different people respond to the different technique. So, try different options and sort out what works best for you and your child. Try and try again, at the end hard work and persistence eventually pay off.
With this “6 Step plan”, I had achieved my desired goal. Now, my daughter rarely does “nail-biting”. And I am happy that again “Positive parenting” had resolved one of my troublesome parenting issues. Did you have struggled with any of your child’s bad habit? What was your experience? How had you helped your child to get rid of his annoying habit? Please share!