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Why do kids develop these habits?
There are many reasons why young kids engage in habits like thumb sucking, hair twirling, nail biting and nose picking. Mostly its their way of reliving stress, boredom and tiredness. They might be using it as a coping mechanism or as a pleasurable experience that might be relaxing them. Whatever the reason, as parents it becomes a matter of concern when they start doing some of these in public and can be a cause of embarrassment.
Are these habits harmful?
None of these habits directly cause any harm to your kids and they usually outgrow them. However during their time of passing through these habits, here are a few things you should know :
Thumb-sucking/pacifiers : A habit that most kids develop since their infancy. It has a calming effect and often helps the kid to sleep. However after a certain age, this habit affects the posture of the tongue in the mouth and may affect the jaw line. A smaller jaw line will lead to less space for teeth, causing them to become misaligned. Sucking thumb when the permanent teeth start coming also affect the shape of the teeth, the palate or the bite and may alter the natural siting position of the mouth.
What can you do : An idle thumb and mouth lead to thumb-sucking. So try and keep your child's mouth and hands occupied. Give him talking exercises, word puzzles, bubbles to blow, etc. to keep him engaged.
Hair twirling/ Hair pulling : This habit is more common in girls than in boys. It begins with hair twirling and may or may not lead to hair pulling. Hair twirling is often seen as a way to calm oneself down.
What can you do : So next time when you see your kid doing this talk to her and ask her what is bothering her. Engage her in different activities like running, throwing ball, crafts, drawing, dancing and singing, etc.
Nail Biting : This is often observed in adults too. Like adults, kids also do this when they feel stressed or are thinking. Excessive habit of nail biting can lead to bad cuticle growth and also increase the chances of taking in dirt or other harmful substances in excess. It is simply unhygienic and kids must be made aware of that.
What can you do :Instill the idea of hygiene in your kid and tell him how nail biting can lead to bad health. Do not pull his finger or scold. Such reactions will not help in completely eradicating the habit and will come back in later age. Doing activities with him and distracting him with some other task can also help.
Nose Picking : Kids often pick their noses and either eat its contents or wipe it on anything. They might do this because they feel itchy or the mucus inside is causing irritation or some allergic reaction. Picking nose in the public is a socially unacceptable behaviour and as parents can be very annoying and embarrassing to deal with.
What can you do :Kids sometimes pick these habits when they see someone do it. Make them understand that it is unhygienic to pick one's nose. Offer a tissue when you see him do that. Make your kid clear his nose when he is in the bathroom to avoid any mucus accumulation. Remember not to pull out his hand in the public, hit his hand or mock him when he does this. If you do this, he might still continue to do this behind your back. Overreacting might even encourage more nose picking.
Some other habits that might go unnoticed :
W sitting : This is a sitting position that is often seen in toddlers. In this position the kid is seated on his bottom, with his knees bent and legs forming a W shape. Most parents don't notice it because it is so common but it has a negative effect on your child's growth. It can cause orthopedic problems in the future and affect the muscle growth, leading to imbalance, poor co-ordination and poor motor skill development. Repeated correction in the sitting position is the only key to getting rid of this habit.
Biting and hitting : When a situation becomes stressful for the kids they usually express their frustration by biting and hitting. Be calm but also firm when you explain that hurting someone is unacceptable. Pay attention to what might be triggering such a reaction, this will help you understand him better. Withheld certain privileges to instill good behaviour but do not resort to hitting or scolding.
Eating things off the floor : Toddlers develop this habit and it can be dangerous for them. Since its hard to explain them why they shouldn't be doing this, you can resort to distracting them with some other food item they like. Reenact the scene placing yourself in their place. They learn best from example and impressions.
Teeth grinding : This habit called Bruxism is seen very commonly among infants. They do this in their sleep and usually outgrow them. Stress could be one of the reasons that might trigger this. It may also cause dental issues and disorder of the jaw joint. If it continues into adulthood it can be a matter of concern. See the dentist for further evaluation if it is happening very often.
Fiddling with themselves in public : If you find your kids rubbing or touching their genitals in public it can be quite embarrassing. Don't act alarmed and present this behaviour in a negative way. Its a normal thing and lots of kids do this. Your child is curious during that age and exploration is part of growing up. Explain about his private parts and tell him to do this when he is alone or in his room.
Remember with your help and support they are sure to conquer these bad habits.