Biting the fingers or fingernails is a common habit among young children.

How to Help Your Child Change Bad Habits

by Candice Coleman

Watching a toddler's bad habits can make any parent cringe, from the crunch as a child bites his nails to the aggravation of watching your daughter pick her nose. While some habits are completely harmless, others can increase your child's risk of getting an infection. Pick your battles, Mom and Dad -- scolding your child about all of his bad habits can be overwhelming. You might also want to take a look at yourself -- did Junior learn to pick his nose from Dad? Changing your bad habits can set a positive example for your tots.

Pay attention to all of your tot's bad habits. As annoying or aggravating as these habits may be, children typically grow out of most bad habits within a few months. If habits persist, hold back on scolding your child for picking his nose, ears or scabs. Punishment is not an effective way of discouraging undesirable behavior.

Offer alternative behaviors to your tot. If he is picking his nose, offer him a tissue or give him something else to do with his hands. Children often pick up bad habits through observation or as a way to relieve stress and boredom. Finding something to keep him occupied can help him learn a new method to cope with his feelings.

Work on one bad habit at a time. Trying to change multiple bad habits at once can cause children to become anxious, fearful or overwhelmed. Pick one at a time and remain consistent -- every time you see the tot engaging in a bad habit, offer alternatives.

Encourage your child when you see him engaging in alternatives to bad habits. If he is petting the cat instead of sucking on his fingers, say, "It is so great that you are petting the cat!" This can encourage him to continue positive habits without your guidance in the future.


  • Talk to your tot and ask him if something is bothering her. Sadness or anxiety could be contributing to his bad habits. Fighting siblings, for example, could be causing your tyke to feel anxious. Addressing these underlying problems could end a child's bad habits.


  • Seek a pediatrician's advice immediately if your child is engaging in practices that endanger his health, like holding his breath or banging his head against objects to the point of injury.

About the Author

Candice Coleman worked in the public school system as a middle school and high school substitute teacher. In addition to teaching, she is also a tutor for high school and college students.

Photo Credits

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