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How to Stop a Bad Habit Effectively and Without Shaming

23 Jun 2014 – 01:39 PM EDT

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So you want to know how to stop a bad habit quickly and painlessly.

Almost all children develop a less-than-pleasant habit at some point. Whether it’s nose picking, nail biting, lip chewing, or having a terrible attitude – they’re self soothing to ease tension, anxiety, or boredom.

Believe me, even the most laid back parents can become irritated at these bad habits. So much so that they resort to scolding, punishing, and even shaming their child in an attempt to put a stop to it. Truth is, if this behavior is dealt with in a negative way, it could possibly leave your child feeling resentful, discouraged, and with a damaged self-esteem.

Here’s the good news! Most childhood habits are harmless and phase out on their own. If you want to help move things along, it’s important you refrain from criticizing your child. Keep in mind he’s most likely trying to comfort himself, so instead of shaming him, offer reassurance and positive attention.

When I started weaning my son from his pacifier at age 2, he turned to sucking on his bottom lip to cope with his “loss.” His self soothing appeared borderline inappropriate, and people around us seemed to always be standing by, anxiously awaiting his performance. I would’ve waited it out, but his lip started cracking and caused him discomfort. So here’s what I did. Whenever I saw him get busy with his lip, I’d hug him, gently massage his lip while saying, “We don’t want this to be ouchie anymore!”, and shifted his attention to something else – be it a coloring book, music, etc. It wasn’t long before his funky habit was eliminated without lowering his self-esteem.

Now whether it’s nose picking, nail biting, thumb sucking, hair pulling, teeth grinding… gosh, the list could go on! Here are some suggestions on how to stop a bad habit as painlessly as possible for both the child and parent.

What Not to Do:

  • Draw attention to the habit or tell your child he’s bad. Remember the child and his bad habit are not one and the same.
  • Criticize or show you’re disgusted by his behavior. This is damaging to your child’s self esteem. Avoid making him feel ashamed of himself at all cost. The habit most likely helps him through a discomfort. Making him feel bad about himself could make matters worse.


What To Do Instead:

  • Look for ways to reduce stress in your child’s life.
  • Offer plenty of emotional support and celebrate his positive qualities.
  • When your child shows signs of boredom or stress, help shift his focus to a positive activity, or discuss his concerns without judgment.
  • Do a quick self-check. Some bad habits are learned from parents. If you notice you’ve been slacking in the areas of concern, make positive changes immediately. It’s tough breaking our own bad habits, but let’s do it for our kids. After all, they’ll have to live with it long after we’re gone.
  • If the habit affects your child’s health, please consult a professional.