Habits in Children – Are They Cause for Concern?

A habit is defined as an acquired behavior pattern sometimes followed so regularly it can become involuntary. Commonly, people associate them with annoying or negative behaviors such as:

  • Nail-biting
  • Humming
  • Clicking a pen
  • Whistling around the house
  • Twirling one’s hair

Things like nail-biting and hair-twirling may create worry for parents for two reasons; first, parents are concerned the habits may indicate a level of anxiety in their child or, second, they could create some harm if excessive or if they continue for too long.

Before sounding any alarm bells observe your child (this is most effectively done quietly, without drawing attention to the behavior) and see how often the behavior occurs, in which situations, and when the behavior is absent. Once you have a sense of this daily behavioral information you can determine whether it may be impacting your child negatively.

If this is the case, consult with your pediatrician and get their input about your concern and the behavior your child is exhibiting. Many parents often find these habits come and go without any pattern and can resolve on their own without intervention. If intervention is needed, your pediatrician can direct you to the most beneficial treatment path.

Conversely, parents often work to instill positive habits in children. Examples of positive habits could be:

  • Looking both ways before crossing the street
  • Putting on a seatbelt when you get in the car
  • Stopping at the sidewalk when playing outside to remain a safe distance from the street
  • Turning in a homework folder upon entering the classroom
  • Saying thank you after receiving a gift
  • Giving a big hug when greeted by a parent after a separation

In my experience, when parents start looking for them, these positive habits are often exhibited at a higher rate than the negative/annoying ones parents see in children, but if you have concerns about negative habits they should be brought to the attention of your child’s physician. For more information on Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Behavior Health Services, click here.

Cami Winkelspecht, Ph.D.
Dr. Winkelspecht is a Psychologist and Clinical Educator for Behavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to her role as a clinical educator, she coordinates the Incredible Years parent programming initiatives within behavioral health, is the Associate Track Director of the Child Clinical Internship training track for their APA approved psychology internship program, and serves as a cognitive-behavioral therapy consultant for the agency. She received her B.S. in Psychology and Child Development from Vanderbilt University and her M.S. and Ph.D. from Auburn University.

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