Teaching Your Toddler to Drop Harmful or Annoying Habits


One of the challenges to any parent’s patience is getting a toddler out of his bothersome habits—hopefully, before the habits become inappropriate for his age. Here’s a short list of some common childhood behaviors, and how you might help your child outgrow them.

Picking their nose (with their bare hands)

Some adults are guilty of doing this in public. Of course, you dont’t want your child to become one of them. Apart from being a socially awkward habit, nose-picking with bare fingers is also unhygienic and even harmful. Unwashed fingers can push in germs into the nasal passages, where they can be inhaled into the lungs, causing viral or bacterial infection. Fingernails can scratch the sensitive lining of inner nostrils, causing scratches and wounds that may become infected as well.

If your toddler has this habit, try to explain carefully and simply that “we only clean our noses when we’re alone” or in the bathroom, and that it’s better done with a tissue. Teach your toddler how to do this, and to wash his hands with soap and water afterward. Keep reinforcing this idea until he acquires it as a new habit.

Biting or chewing

Toddlers may bite or chew on their feet, hair, objects or other people’s limbs when they’re excited, hungry, or want some attention. Young children can easily swallow various objects or harmful bacteria this way.

Each time your toddler displays this behavior, gently but firmly tell him that it’s not good because “it’s dirty and you’ll get sick” (if he’s biting his feet, hair, or other items) or because “it’s painful for other people” (if he’s biting other people, e.g., his sibling). Try to hide some of his favorite “biting” objects as well, and distract him with other playful activities.


This is expected of infants, but becomes bothersome when they become toddlers, because they have grown old enough to reach over and touch everything, dirty or not. And the more that much-sucked thumb is placed in the child’s mouth, the more it will affect his growing front teeth. In some cases, teeth become misaligned because of this. In the most extreme cases, the same teeth can wear down the skin on the thumb, causing a skin infection.

To stop your toddler from sucking his thumb, you can provide him with a pacifier to suck on. Meanwhile, try giving your toddler a “deadline” to stop sucking on his thumb, i.e., telling him he must build up the ability to stop sucking his thumb by a certain age (e.g., by age 3 or 4).

Lagging or Dallying

This is a child’s habit of taking too long to do a particular task, primarily because he is distracted or doesn’t want to really do it (otherwise known as “dragging his feet”).

It’s the hardest habit to break. You’ll very likely find it hard to hurry your child along without incident. He’ll probably have a tantrum every now and then if you do. The trick to getting your child to stop dawdling is to allot extra time for each task or action, and to give him “advance notices” at least 5 minutes before the task is actually “due.” Be firm, but gentle; you can get tougher and reason with him when he’s a little older and has better understanding.