3 Unhealthy Habits To Look Out For and How To Break Them
These days I find myself getting rather interested in children’s mindset development and the nurturing of positive habits. So join me as I take a slight shift away from the literary focused topics to one that I think would be applicable to every new parent.
Watching your toddler suck on his thumb or put a booger in his mouth can be enduringly cute the first few times but it can quickly turn into an unhealthy habit if parents don’t communicate their disapproval of such actions early in the child’s developmental years. Sometimes the Oh-he-will-grow-out-of-it phase doesn’t come till some nasty damages have been done.
- Hanging onto the bottle
Do you find your child getting too old to be attached to the bottle? Some children require the comfort of the last feed to fall asleep and parents would do whatever it takes to ensure that transition happens without ruckus. This usually means letting the child sleep like a little drunk clutching onto the bottle with milk drooling out by the side of his mouth. Dental experts cite that this is the primary cause of cavities and tooth decay for young children.
One way to wean your child off the bottle is to swap to the sippy cup as early as 8 months old. Once your child has mastered the sippy cup and you think he’s ready, he can move on to using a regular cup without a lid. An open cup just doesn’t quite have the same effect in bed as a bottle has.
- Thumb sucking
It’s common for babies and toddlers to suck their thumbs or their fingers to soothe themselves and sometimes this bad habit gets so ingrained in some children that they never really grew out of it. A friend of mine who is turning forty soon has fingers that are gnarled, wrinkly and often bleeding. While she doesn’t stick her entire finger into her mouth, she developed the bad habit of biting the skin from around her nails. Another friend, in her late twenties is considering bracers to realign her bucktooth issue. She attribute her dental deformity to her thumb-sucking habit which stopped only when she got to secondary school, when the pain from embarrassment from school yard taunts were greater than the need to cannibalize her own finger.
Besides these two real case studies, Dr Jade Miller from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says that, “Since sucking depresses the tongue away from the roof of the mouth and compresses it, the habit can affect the normal growth of the upper jaw, causing it to develop narrowly and leading to a crossbite or an overbite.”
So if you don’t want your child looking like a character from the Simpsons, you can follow my mother’s recommendation that apparently worked like a charm. My mother would coat my fingers in sambal (a type of Asian chili paste) to prevent me from sticking them into my mouth. When I asked her if ever rubbed my eye by mistake, she said it has happened many times. But between breaking a bad habit and a few hours of swollen eyes and wailing, she chose the former.
If such draconian method is too much for you, you can help your child stop sucking his fingers with a special nail polish that tastes bitter (safe for toddler consumption of course!), a cotton glove or a finger guard. One particular advice I found in a few parenting forums is to use positive encouragement. Some parents said that praising your child for not putting his fingers in his mouth and persuading him not to do it will be enough; an approach that my mother quickly disapproves with a dismissive scoff.
- Picky Eating
This is probably the most common gripe of every parent with young children. How do you get your picky eater kid to eat the greens on his plate?
Instead of pulling your hair out at every meal, the first step is to realize that your child is not being defiant just to be defiant, but that she needs the tools from you to be a healthy, adventurous eater.
Dina Rose, author of It's Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating, has this advice for parents: “Let your child explore a pea-sized amount of new foods so that she’s armed with information about new foods and will feel safe and empowered to eventually accept them. Instead of asking your child, ‘Do you like it?’ ask what it smells, feels and looks like, for example. The goal becomes to teach children about food and not from a nutrition perspective but from a sensory perspective.”
While Rose’s method sounds rather noble, I’ve had firsthand experience with children who simply refuse to be reasoned with. Meal times are an hour-long warfare with threats and warnings. In Singapore, most parents opt for the carrot-and-stick approach. Self-proclaimed parenting expert, Madam Chan Lye Neo, a.k.a my mother, offered an alternative parenting view. “I don’t have time to negotiate with you,” she said. “You are very stubborn child. ‘Don’t want’ means ‘don’t want’. But I know you like stuffed sotong and meatballs. So what I do is grind the vegetables and mix them with the meat. You never knew.”
I hope this article has been useful and informative to you. If you like what you read and the new style I’ve taken, please leave me a comment below to like me know which other areas you would like me to talk about.
Written by Eugene Tay, founder of Brain & Butter and Monsters Under the Bed.
When Eugene was a young boy, he wanted to be an astronaut. When that didn't take off, he decided that he was going to be like Indiana Jones and explore the world as an archaeologist. Eventually, he figured out how he can do both. That's when he became a writer.