How many times have you seen a toddler put his thumb in his mouth? Or seen them gnaw on their nails and wonder why does this happen?
These are actually coping mechanisms that toddlers have in place for partings, new circumstances, upsetting feelings, or they might just like doing it. These habits calm the kid through the relaxing experience of sucking or rhythmic moving.
Common Self-soothing Habits
Some of the common toddler self-soothing habits are:
Thumb-sucking is a habit your baby does in order to calm himself/herself.
This habit may extend to cuddling a toy or the end of a blanket, in case it goes unchecked. Thumb-sucking occurs in about half of all one-year-old infants, and while most stop it by the age of two or three years, some of them continue this further as well.
Self-rocking provides toddlers with a rhythmic and repetitive movement to soothe themselves. This activity helps them mimic the feeling of being held and rocked by you. This habit is more common in toddlers who have grown up around restrictions and a tense atmosphere. If you place the child in a free and fun environment, this habit often disappears and only reappears in times of huge stress such as an illness.
Nail-biting can be said to be a form of thumb-sucking with a bit of chewing. Nail-biting, if done gently by your child, is an active method for self-soothing. This habit is usually caught on by toddlers who feel the absence of something or want to latch onto something, in case of emotional distress. However, your child may even engage in fierce nail-biting, which may lead to bleeding or in worse cases, the complete nail bed being extricated.
Other than these three major self-soothing habits, your child may also engage in habits such as twirling and pulling their hair, picking their nose or sores, or chewing objects like pencils and clothing.
How to Curb These Habits?
• Most of these toddler self-soothing habits go away by themselves. However, if these habits are causing damage to your kid's health, you can curb them with:
• Recurrent but gentle reminders to stop them can be enough to break them from their habits.
• Engage your child’s mind with some activities or hobbies during their idle periods.
• Try to find out the reasons behind your kid’s habit, as well as remove all the possible causes of those habits. For example, if your child sucks their thumb when they are separated from their toy, then decrease their dependency on the toy.
• Find alternatives for these habits and inculcate them in your toddler. For instance, if your child wakes up crying, distract him with a toy. Eventually, if a toy is placed near him, he will turn to that for comfort.
• Some habits come in pairs, so stopping one can automatically break the other one. For example, if you can find a way to curb their thumb-sucking, the hair-pulling might also stop.
• Use over-the-counter agents, such as bitter-tasting compounds that can be applied to the fingers or the cuticles, to prompt your child to refrain from indulging in the habit.
• Praise or reward your kids either by verbal approval or by buying them something they like, when they do not engage in that particular habit. This will make your children more likely to stop their habits, in hopes of receiving some kind of praise or reward.
Most of these self-soothing habits start to fade away towards middle childhood. However, if your child's habits do not show signs of stopping or get out of hand, you need to consult with your paediatrician for the best course of action.