Getting Your Child to Break Bad Habits (page 2)

By — National Association of Social Workers
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

Use Behavior Shaping

Pick a time of the day in which the child normally would not exhibit his or her behavior and stay close by. During this period, reinforce successes and call attention to setbacks. When your child has become successful during these periods, set a new goal for a different time of day. This technique is effective in helping your child gain confidence that he or she can be successful.

Lead by Example

Children learn by modeling, so be sure not to engage in a behavior (smoking, for example) that you don’t want your child to imitate. You can also show how sincere you are by offering to discontinue a negative habit of your own.

Make a Public Commitment

Encourage your child to announce to grandparents, family friends and teachers that he or she is planning to break a habit. With support, it is always easier to resist an urge.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Show your appreciation for your child’s effort and determination. If your child becomes discouraged, focus on past successes. Keep any doubts and frustrations to yourself. When desired behaviors occur, immediately reward your child with praise, recognition, approval, attention or additional privileges.

Teach Your Child To Relax

Nervous habits, such as nail biting, increase under stress. Practice slow breathing exercises with your child and teach him or her to use positive self-talk whenever feelings of nervousness or stress occur.

Be Patient

Habits are not developed or broken overnight. Change occurs in gradual steps. Begin by aiming to reduce the number of times a habit occurs each day and then slowly progress toward extinction of the habit. While these techniques can curtail many behaviors, they are often ineffective against more serious habits. If your child does not benefit from the behavioral intervention presented here, it is recommended that he or she be evaluated by a mental health professional.

Habits aren’t called habits because we engage in them when we feel like it. Rather, they are behaviors that have a tendency to control us. Because habits are developed over time, it is important that parents are mindful of the behaviors that their children exhibit. Ignoring them won’t make undesirable behaviors go away. But if you employ the techniques listed here, you’ll be better able to equip your child with good habits and help him or her from slipping into a routine of bad ones.

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