On Twitter this morning I saw several tweets about how to deal with undesirable habits in children. These started me wondering why, exactly we are so bothered by our kids habits. For the most part nail-biting, hair twiddling, lip licking and their ilk are not harmful. Sure – there are some undesirable consequences (raw little fingers, frazzled hair, dry lips…) but I am guessing that really, our parental reactions come from a different category of worry. It may be that when we watch our child fidget, pick at their scab or chew absent-mindedly on their shirt, some of our reaction is based on a worry that perhaps they will never grow out of these habits and we will fail by sending little nail-biters into the world. We wonder if perhaps Dostoevsky was right when he wrote:
The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.
And, if he is right we feel there is so little time to shape our children into successful adults; will we cram in all the lessons in time? Do we also react so strongly out of concern about how our parenting skills will be judged when others see their little habits? It seems a difficult time to be raising children; we are surrounded by a constant influx of pressure and “advice” about how to parent.
There was another, well done article posted on Twitter this morning – Kids Affected by Parent Stress More Than We Recognize. This talked of the consequences of our stress and worry on our children. It is true, there is much to legitimately worry about (jobs, health, finances, world affairs, etc) and given this I would challenge us all to look hard for the spaces in our days where we can let things slide. One good place to start is with our reactions to our children’s habits. I find that when reassuring parents in my office two things seem to help the most: knowledge and humor. For knowledge there are many places to turn, here I have gathered some basic information about habits and their counterpart, tics. I find the best advice is to try to not nag instead, to talk calmly and directly with your child about his habit. After all he may not be aware of doing it; as Agatha Christie said:
Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them
Awareness is the first step to breaking the habit. Have the conversation at a quiet moment. At that time explain you have noticed that he sometimes has the habit and that you would like him to think about stopping and why. Brainstorm with him a list of ways to learn to stop. Even very young children respond well to being included and respected in this way!
And now, for some humor:
My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income – Errol Flynn
Zoo: An excellent place to study the habits of human beings – Evan Esar
Or, as I tried last night when watching my handsome near-15 y/o absent-mindedly chew on his t-shirt – just smile at your sweet monsters and have a private giggle. They will have grown up and out of most childhood habits so quickly (I hope… the T-shirts are suffering) that letting them slide at times may be the best approach.