Try These Tools To Help Your Child Break Bad Habits
Has your child picked up a bad habit lately? From swearing, to using baby talk past an appropriate age, to whining, to nibbling on fingers and lips and objects, parents are constantly trying to help their children shape their behaviors into something that is socially appropriate. When problems become distressing enough, and are interfering with normal socialization, schoolwork, or self-care, parents often seek the help of a child behavior psychologist in Littleton. Before you start, or while you’re working with a child psychologist, try these tips to help your child break bad habits!
- Bring it out into the open.
The first step to overcoming a bad habit is to recognize and accept that it is happening. Don’t shame your child or approach him with anger, simply point out what is happening when you are both calm. For example, if your kindergartener’s endless baby talk is driving you up a tree, you could say something like “you know that voice you use that makes mommy really frustrated? That baby voice? You use that voice almost every day after school, and I want to help you use your big boy voice, like you do at school.” When a play therapist in Highlands Ranch meets with a child for the first time, they spend a lot of time simply describing what they see.
- Make a collaborative plan.
Work WITH your child to make a plan to eliminate this behavior. This may include a verbal or visual warning to help your child notice when she is showing this behavior (older kids who would be embarrassed with reminders may be more open to a visual warning, like a hand signal, that their friends don’t know about). It can include big or little rewards, like a sticker on the sticker chart each day, or a trip to a favorite park. It depends on what your child needs, wants, and responds to. Positive reinforcement usually works better than punishment—you want to get this bad habit out of your child’s mind, not make it seem like a looming threat. If you are already working with a behavior psychologist, consult with them as well!
- Teach (and practice) a replacement behavior.
Remember, whatever bad habit your child has gotten himself into began for a reason. Many bad habits serve an important purpose. Talk with your child to find a replacement behavior that meets that same need, without the annoying habit. For example, if your child curses all the time, help him to think of other, more appropriate ways to say the same thing. Humor is a great tool here—younger kids will love coming up with silly, creative terms to use as “insults” or expressions of frustration. That’s what play therapists in Highlands Ranch do when we tackle tough issues through play! If your child loves to nibble her nails or chew on her mask, introduce approved chewing tools or go for a classic stick of gum for those old enough to chew safely.
- Keep your role in mind.
As a parent, your goal is not to “make” your child behave properly 24/7. You guide, advise, teach, remind, and supervise, even through the (many) mistakes that occur. Expect your child to slip up, make errors, and even to backslide after weeks of good progress. This is normal. Keep drawing attention gently to the undesired behaviors, redirect the child to the appropriate replacement behavior, and reward the good when it happens.
This sounds easy, but nothing is as easy in real life as it is in a blog! If your child is struggling with bad habits you can’t break, if you need more help, or if there are ever any safety concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to a skilled child psychologist.
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