Toddlers are at the age when our children want to explore. They have developed physical capabilities that allow them to do just that. However, that includes bad habits that are harmful (and, quite frankly, really annoying).
Typically, these toddler habits are just phases that they will outgrow eventually. However, we must manage them before it turns into anything serious.
As difficult and annoying as they can get, avoid yelling or physical punishments at all costs. Trust us, these won’t stop anything and would just be counterproductive. Toddlers usually do these bad habits when they are bored, stressed, frustrated, unhappy, or tired.
Once you understand where they’re coming from, you’ll be able to approach these toddler habits in an effective way. Below are six of the most common bad toddler habits and what you should do to break them:
1. Biting and Kicking
You’ve probably seen this at home, school, or even the playground. Toddlers still don’t have the capacity to handle their emotions. So when they are angry or frustrated, they can’t help but release that through aggressive behaviour. Another instance is when they are curious. They could shove another child out of curiosity even when they don’t mean any harm.
What To Do:
Don’t get angry at your toddler. Understand where they are coming from first before releasing your frustration or annoyance on them. In this case, they don’t know that their actions inflict pain on others. As mentioned, all they can really do is express their emotions in the way they know – physically.
They are not yet capable of reflecting on their feelings so you should be there to guide them towards the right coping mechanisms. First, explain to them that what they are doing is wrong as it harms other people.
2. Thumb Sucking
Toddlers unconsciously suck their thumbs for a number of reasons. They may be stressed, need security, or they just want to poop. Similar to the previous point, toddlers do this as a way to regulate their emotions. It may not be bad or cause harm to anyone but if it persists, it could affect the growth of their teeth and speech development.
What To Do:
Keep their mouths busy. Distraction is one of the most effective parenting strategies when it comes to regulating behaviour. Try activities such as singing, blowing bubbles, working on puzzles, or anything that doesn’t require putting anything in their mouths.
Alongside those alternatives, teach them how to cope when they’re tempted with thumb sucking. For example, they can ball their hands into a fist when the urge hits them. To add the cherry on top, praise them for doing so successfully! Nothing works better than positive reinforcement on kids after all. Remember, shaming them practically does nothing for either of you except ruining your relationship.
3. Head Banging
You turn your back on your toddler for a second and then a moment later, you hear knocking sounds. Surprise! It’s your toddler banging their head on the wall. It’s even more concerning because they’re hurting themselves and they don’t even know it! Just like most bad toddler habits, head banging is their way of soothing themselves. However, despite the initial positive effects on them, the act doesn’t justify it.
What To Do:
Toddlers usually do this when they’re ready to go to bed. To combat this, tire your toddler out during the day with activities such as running around or playing with toys. By the time night comes, cool down with some singing, slow dancing, or reading. In no time, your toddler will be tired enough to fall asleep without hurting themselves.
Generally, distraction is really the way to go. Offer alternatives for when they are banging their head even during the day. Play with them and explain that what they’re doing is not okay.
4. Teeth Grinding
Toddlers aren’t exempt from this bad habit. This habit is widely common to all ages (you’re probably even clenching your jaw right now). But, of course, that doesn’t make it okay. For toddlers, this happens when their teeth are finally growing out. This usually happens during their sleep as a way to soothe themselves or just an involuntary action as a response to this new development. They usually outgrow this but if it persists, it could pose serious dental problems.
What To Do:
Teeth grinding, like most of the bad toddler habits, is primarily caused by stress. Anything can set off a child easily. When you use a red cup instead of a blue one, they could throw a tantrum over it in a snap. To avoid this, make your environment as child-friendly as possible. Don’t yell at them as it will only amplify the stress they’re feeling. Another tip is to make them drink water as frequently as possible – dehydration may actually be linked to teeth grinding.
5. Nail Biting Or Picking
If you’ve never bitten your nails, you’re probably lying. Even adults do this all the time and the reasons aren’t different from when a toddler does this. Anxiety and stress cause you and toddlers to do this all the same. Another reason is plain old boredom.
What To Do:
Don’t act on impulse when you see your toddler doing this. You’ll most likely end up trying to pull their hand away from their mouth (keyword: trying). What’ll happen afterwards is a fight for power and cause more stress on your toddler, which will just fuel their need to bite their nails.
Help them destress with other activities that aren’t as physically demanding. Soothing activities include colouring, reading, or role-playing with their toys. Another surefire way is to simply cut their nails short.
6. Nose Picking
We’ve all definitely seen this in every toddler. As disgusting as it is, there are actually more reasons behind this than just boredom. If your toddler has an infection or allergies, they’ll want to pick their nose more to remove the crusts forming there. They don’t know that it’s socially unacceptable to do this so for them, this is the best way to alleviate the irritation they feel in their nostrils.
What To Do:
First of all, never shame your toddler. They don’t even know what they’re doing is wrong. Instead, explain to them that boogers have thousands of germs that could make them and even other people sick. Offer them alternatives such as tissues to take care of the itchiness and clear out their noses.
Usually, toddlers don’t feel public shame before the age of three or four so you shouldn’t rely on that to stop this bad toddler habit. Keep their hands busy with activities such as playing with blocks or colouring.
Generally, you should also keep your environment clean to make allergies less prone.
In A Nutshell…
The majority of these bad toddler habits are caused by stress. Toddlers still are not capable of doing other coping mechanisms to regulate their emotions. After all, experiencing emotions is all new to them.
Although these habits are not harmful at that age, they could develop into habits that will be more difficult to manage as they grow older. Help them manage their emotions and involuntary habits to stop their habits from turning into a bad lifestyle.
What are some bad habits you observe in your toddler? Share your tips on how to break them in the comments!