Seven Essential Steps to Help Your Child Manage Unhelpful Habits Like Chewing, Nail Biting and Nose Picking

Seven Essential Steps to Help Your Child Manage Unhelpful Habits Like Chewing, Nail Biting and Nose Picking


Does your child fidget with everything, chew on their shirt sleeves, bite their nails, make noises with their mouth? It is challenging to know how to address these problems without making your child feel embarrassed or defensive about their behavior.

My daughter is a chewer. She chews on everything — shirt sleeves, blankets, markers, even her hair. At times, I’ve felt like I was constantly nagging and reminding her to stop chewing.

Instead of being motivating and helpful, my “reminders” were causing friction between us. She started trying to hide her chewing to avoid my nagging. I would notice wet spot on her clothes or toys and begin to feel frustrated.

We needed a better plan.

Here are Seven Steps to Help Your Child Manage Unhelpful Habits such as Nose Picking, Nail Biting and Chewing

1. Stay Calm: It’s not always easy to keep cool when you’re dealing with an annoying habit. Managing your own anger, frustration or anxiety is an important step in helping your child successfully overcome their annoying habits. Staying calm will help you teach and guide, rather than shaming your child. Take a deep breath before you respond or react. Remind yourself that they are still developing the skills and need more guidance to be successful.

2. Observe: Pay attention to the times that your child is most “active” (in our case, when she was chewing). What activity are they engaged in? Who are they with? Does the activity seem to serve a purpose? Is it interfering in their life socially, academically or at home? Some kids fidget to help them focus, others when they are nervous or scared. I realized that my daughter chews when she’s feeling calm and relaxed.

3. Name it: After you have some observations, talk with your child about the behavior. See if they have any insight (most kids don’t). Keep the tone neutral and supportive, rather than critical or shaming. “I’ve noticed that you bite your nails when you’re watching TV. Have you noticed that too?” Then work on problem solving. “Can you think of anything we can do when you feel like (insert annoying habit)?”

4. Replace: Instead of fighting against the urge to engage in these habits, provide your child an appropriate replacement object or activity that can serve the same purpose. We purchased a child-friendly “chewable” necklace for my daughter. Maybe some fancy nail polish will reduce the nail biting, some gum or hard candy to reduce the mouth noises. It may take a number of tries before you find a replacement that works for your child.

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5. Empower: Now that your child is aware of the behavior and has a few options, encourage independence by noticing times when they choose the replacement object without reminders, when they stop mid-behavior to make a different choice, or when they acknowledge the behavior happened and are able to give a suggestion for what to do next time. Habits are hard to break — expect setbacks, but celebrate progress!

6. Peer Pressure: Some habits will decrease on their own over time, thanks to spending more time with other children. As kids mature, they become more aware of their behaviors and the behaviors of others. They may seek to “fit in” by blowing their nose with a kleenex instead of their sleeve because that’s what the other kids do. Kids mature at different rates and, unfortunately, not all children will notice (or care) how their peers act.

7. Get Help: Sometimes these “annoying habits” are signs of a more complicated problem and may require the assistance of an occupational therapist. These individuals are trained to help your child find relief by addressing their sensory and behavioral needs. If you notice that your child fidgets when they feel anxious or angry, a mental health therapist can help them address the thoughts and feelings that go along with the behavior

Believe it or not, someday your child will wipe their nose with a kleenex. They will chew gum instead of their shirt sleeve. And they will keep the nail biting and  noises to a minimum. Until then, provide them with loving guidance and appropriate alternatives to get them started on this path!


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Nicole is a mom to 3 young girls, a Parent Coach, and Licensed Therapist in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the author of *Positive Parenting for Imperfect Families*. Nicole helps parents connect with their children, feel confident in their parenting, and find positive alternatives to punishment. Learn about online Parent Coaching and read parenting tips on her blog, ImperfectFamilies. Sign up for Nicole's newsletter here.

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3 Responses to Seven Essential Steps to Help Your Child Manage Unhelpful Habits Like Chewing, Nail Biting and Nose Picking

  1. My almost five year old great niece is a nose picker. A few weeks ago, I told her when she turns five, the booger fairy will bring her a booger jar, and everyone can donate boogers for her. She was a bit mortified, and said she did not want it. We all talked about how that was a baby habit, and by the time she was five, it had to go away or she gets the jar. She has almost given up the habit, with seven weeks to go. Gross, sure. No scolding…we just put the blame on the booger fairy, and she took it seriously!

  2. Thanks for the great sequence – finding the replacement is often the key but so overlooked! Sharing on Facebook tomorrow 🙂

  3. My 4 year old developed a habit of sucking on his bottom lip (just the right side!) when he was 1, I have really struggled to get him to stop – what should I get him to replace it with? He used to do it when tired or worried – but now it’s ALL the time!

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