Most of the time, your toddler's charming and adorable, with endless tricks up her sleeve. But every now and again, even the most well-behaved kid displays behavior that you want to keep under lock and key. Hitting, nose-picking, and biting probably seem completely embarrassing to you, but these baby habits have a purpose. Find out why your child is engaging in weird, disgusting or destructive behavior—and what you can do about it.
It's a fact of life: All kids bite. Even younger babies might try to take a chunk out of your shoulder if you're not careful. This is because babies generally use their mouths to explore the world around them. When your little one chomps down on your arm, she's not imitating Hannibal Lecter, she's just checking to see how your arm feels and tastes in her mouth.
- What to do? If your biting babe is getting more forceful and serious with her biting, it's time to stop it. At first bite, tell your baby calmly but firmly, "No, that hurts!" If the biting continues, withdraw your presence so your child learns that biting means social isolation.
It's happened to all of us; you're calmly holding your child when all of a sudden you take a fist to the face. No, it's not a bar brawl; just a form of self-expression. "Toddlers on a daily basis are bombarded with new experiences," says licensed master social worker Jennifer Kelman. "This is a lot to handle and process and they do not have the internal coping skills yet to deal with all of it, nor do they have the language skills to express themselves. Given that, they resort to behaviors where they can release their feelings ... [such as] hitting, biting, screaming, etc."
- What to do? When your baby hits, Kelman suggests that you keep the lectures short and sweet. "Giving them long-winded explanations at this point is not helpful, but short sound bites such as 'I know you are frustrated, but hitting hurts,' can work well. Set firm limits around it and if the behavior continues to escalate tie a loss of privilege around it. 'If you kick me again, I will have to remove Mickey Mouse from your bed tonight.'"
Yup, eventually your toddler realizes that her fingers are exactly the right size for excavation and exploration in her nose. You're grossed out and mortified, but your little one is simply learning about her body in new ways.
- What to do? Ignore it if you can. Nose picking is common in toddlers, but most grow out of the habit. Giving the behavior even more attention can actually make your little one more inclined to dig. If you're out in public and can't ignore it, offer a tissue instead. By the time your kid hits preschool, it should just be a funny anecdote.
Listening to your little one bash her head into her crib, the wall or the floor can be disconcerting. And while it looks like your toddler's practicing for her first heavy metal concert, all of that head banging could be a sign of distress. Babies often use rhythmic behavior to help keep them calm.
- What to do? "These behaviors are a symptom of pent-up aggression and anxiety as its underlying cause which must be identified and corrected," says psychotherapist Edie Raether. "It is crucial to identify the cause and address the issues, rather than just 'stop' a behavior which may be a child's only means of communication." Find out what is making your little one stressed out and you'll find the key to quitting the head banging. Also, it's usually harmless, but talk to your doc if you notice any developmental delays.
Teeth grinding usually starts around the same time that your baby is undergoing heavy construction when it comes to her mouth. Excess teething means pressure feels good, which can then lead to grinding. The good news? The behavior is usually short-lived.
- What to do? Most teeth grinding ends about the same time the teething process does, but some toddlers grind their teeth into adulthood. Since it usually happens at night, there's not much you can do to stop the behavior. Still, ask your child's dentist about mouth guards to help stop damage to her teeth.
Relaxation, boredom and fatigue; these are the three most common causes for hair twirling and pulling. Like a tiny teen, your toddler often engages in bad habits to deal with three of their most common emotions. Of course, if she starts pulling tufts of hair out, there could be a bigger problem.
- What to do? Don't worry about mild hair twirling when your little one seems occupied. She's doing it without thinking and it won't hurt her. However, if the hair pulling becomes forceful, or she's actually tearing out the strands and cuticles, have a visit with your doc. These are signs of a serious issue called trichotillomania, which can have severe psychological undertones attached.
Hey, toddlers have their vices just like anyone else. While yours might be a 2 p.m. Diet Coke, your little one might be content to pick her nose for a couple of minutes when she's bored. These little baby habits are hardly cause for concern. In a couple of months, it'll be onto new talents and different cringe-worthy behavior; eating food off of the floor, anyone?