All kids misbehave at times, and some seem to really enjoy pushing their parents’ buttons. But no matter what contributes to your child’s choices, it’s important to know how to redirect your child toward better conduct and healthier behavior. Here are five ways to help children break bad habits.
Know That Your Child Craves Your Approval
You may remember your own mom or grandmother stopping you in your tracks with just “the look.” Children covet their parents’ approval, even when it seems like they just want to drive you crazy.
When a child indulges in a bad habit, they might not even be aware they’re doing it—it’s just a habit. It could be mindlessly playing video games for hours or, for younger children, actions like thumb-sucking or nose-picking.
The first of five ways to help children break bad habits is to make sure your child knows you disapprove of the action. Talk to your child gently when you notice them indulging in the behavior you don’t like. Tell them you don’t like it, what the potential consequences of the behavior could be, and ask them to try to stop. Your comment may be the first time your child has ever thought about what they’re doing.
Try to figure out why your child is engaging in the behavior you want to stop. Are they bored or anxious? Are they feeling sad or lonely?
Whatever it is that may be bothering your kid, try to find an alternative to the bad habit that will provide the same kind of comfort without causing harm. Hugging a stuffed animal, reading a comforting story, browsing family photographs, playing a quiet game with you, or visiting a nearby park can all encourage healthier behaviors.
Create New Routines
If boredom is a problem for your child, invite your child to create a new routine involving new activities or behaviors.
Work together to make a behavior chart with spaces for rewards for avoiding bad habits. Integrate your behavior chart into a weekly schedule that incorporates some new activities or even chores that give your child something else to occupy their time.
Don’t Invest Too Much Attention
Your efforts to help your child break bad habits can backfire if you focus on the habit too intensely. Kids love attention, especially from their parents, and they could turn your efforts into an ongoing battle by increasing their negative behaviors just to get your attention.
Let It Go
If what your child is doing is merely annoying and is not potentially harmful, one choice is to simply let it go and trust they’ll outgrow it. Of course, if your child seems excessively anxious or is doing things that can negatively affect their physical health, consult your pediatrician. They can help you determine if your child’s behavior is normal for their developmental stage or if therapeutic intervention is necessary.