Handling bad habits with care

We all have bad habits. Our spouses usually helpfully let us know about ours. But it's our children's bad habits that tend to worry us more.

Most they grow out of, often as the result of peer pressure as they become more socially aware of others' opinions.

For example, nose-pickers quickly learn to stop once friends start commenting.

Sometimes habits such as thumbsucking can worry us. But there are some upsides.

For a start, it's a reflex action for feeding, so that's good. It can have a calming and self-settling effect, so that's good, too.

Thumbs don't get lost in their bed or on the floor of the car, also good.

However, if we see it as a problem, it's one that should be addressed with minimal attention to the habit itself.

Thumbsucking is something children have total control over 24 hours of the day and it probably started in the womb.

So never make it a point of confrontation or discipline because you are bound to lose again and again.

In fact, if they're doing it to comfort themselves, then your anger will actually increase the need for the thumbsucking rather than reduce it.

Some parents take the approach of saying kindly, ''I see you need to suck your thumb, so how about sitting over there and have a good old suck. You can get down when you've finished.''

Children will usually reach a point where they agree with you that big people don't suck their thumbs, yet they continue to do it without being aware that they are.

Have the child suggest a simple signal you can give discreetly to let them know that they're sucking again.

If they need help, suggest a plaster on the thumb or a bitter-tasting application you can get from pharmacists.

These should be reminders not punishments and they help take the confrontation out of the problem.

They can be sold as ''the two of us working together on this''.

Remember to give lots of comforting cuddles in-between times.

There are other techniques you can use, such as cotton night gloves that don't taste that great to suck on.

Dummies can be a substitute, but don't necessarily stop the sucking; however, no child will want to take a dummy to school.

Busy children usually don't have time to suck their thumb.

Sometimes just telling them what will happen to their teeth will bring it to an end in an older child.

Celebrate the end of the habit.

Our daughter ceremoniously took her ragged, thumbsucking blankies and put them in the rubbish bag just before it went out to the gate.

Then we waited and watched the rubbish men take the bag away.

- Ian Munro 

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