6 Steps to Break Your Kid’s Bad Habit

negative consequences

My 9-year-old daughter has a new habit—when she gets nervous, she starts wringing her hands. Kids’ habits span every age, from thumb sucking to teenage cursing. And while those habits may not physically harm your child, they can hurt your child emotionally and socially if others see the habit as odd or disrespectful. Knowing how to break bad habits is important for you and your children.

It’s hard enough to break our own bad habits. When it comes to helping our children break theirs, it can seem even more daunting. Well, these 6 steps will make it easier.

1. How bad is it?

First, take a look at the habit objectively. Is it just annoying or is it physically harmful? If your child continues with this habit, will it make him look odd in the eyes of others? Once you decide how big of a problem the habit is, move on to the following steps.

2. What’s behind it?

Does your child start biting her nails when she’s doing her homework? Does she go for her thumb when she’s tired? Does he bite when he gets excited? Figure out what triggers the behavior.

3. Come up with a better option.

Once you identify what’s behind your child’s habit, come up with options to replace it. If homework makes her nervous, let her squeeze a stress ball instead of chewing her nails. If she needs the comfort of thumb sucking when she gets tired, lay down with her and lovingly hold her hand. What about a child who habitually acts out excitement in a non-acceptable way? Calmly remind him before he gets wound up that biting isn’t an option.

4. Use gentle reminders.

Once you’ve talked to your child about breaking the habit, try not to nag. Instead, if you see them doing their habit, come up with a subtle signal to remind them of the replacement option for their habit.   

5. Motivate and reward.

Positive reinforcement is key here. Set up a system to reward your little habit-breaker. You can use a sticker chart, but be sure to reward incrementally. For younger children, three days’ worth of success might warrant a bigger prize. If your children are older, you might settle for a week as the marker for a celebration.  

6. Don’t overreact.

Shaming or yelling at your child to get them to break their habit probably won’t work. Try to be patient as you work through the process together.   


Tell us! What is the hardest bad habit you were able to break?