Want to stop your child’s anxiety-causing habits for good? These targeted techniques get to the bottom of troubling behaviors and help turn them around.
1. Look for teachable moments. Choose a time when the atmosphere is calm and you aren’t in the midst of the problem to talk with your child about their habit. Avoid lecturing, scolding or ridiculing as this could cause the behavior to escalate.
2. Offer specifics. State clearly and positively the behaviors you want to see. Instead of saying, “Don’t forget your homework again,” say “Remember to do your math and science homework tonight.” When you see desired behaviors, offer praise. This increases your child’s awareness of the habit in a non-overt way and serves as a reminder of what they should be doing.
3. Be consistent. Sometimes parents enable behaviors to persist by saying one thing and doing another. If, for example, you ask your child not to interrupt while you’re talking with others, but let them slip in a quick “Can I just go to…?” and give an answer, this reinforces their undesirable behavior. Remember, breaking old habits takes time, repetition and support from parents.
4. Deliver distractions. Is your child is sucking their thumb out of boredom? Give them something else to do with their hands, like coloring or playing with clay.
5. Communicate and collaborate. If your child is old enough, get their input and work together on solutions to bring about change. Or come up with several strategies yourself and ask which they’d like to try first. This will give them a sense of empowerment.
6. Provide incentives. Acknowledge small steps taken toward breaking a habit with nonmaterial rewards – such as a trip to the library to pick out a video, inviting a friend for a sleepover or baking a special treat.
7. Reach for resources. Age-appropriate books and videos can help your child understand undesirable behaviors in a nonconfrontational way. Use them when you aren’t in the heat of the situation.
8. Set an example. Children often follow their parents’ lead. Role model and teach desired habits that will contribute to your child’s overall healthy development from the start.
9. Wait it out. Parents may need to hang in there until their child is interested in changing the behavior before they can be helped. Sometimes kids need to feel the consequences of their actions before they are ready to change.
10. Determine the danger. If you suspect the behavior is dangerous to your child or others, is affecting their relationships or is getting in the way of healthy child development, talk with your pediatrician or other care professional.