Breaking bad habits

From thumb-sucking to dragging teddy around, here’s how to break your little one’s bad habits — fast!

Baby with pacifier

Baby with pacifierIt’s common for kids to rely on a pacifier, their thumb or a favourite teddy to lull them into the Land of Nod. And while there’s nothing wrong with a baby needing some comfort to help him drop off — especially during the first year — there comes a point when he needs to stop. Here are expert solutions to encourage your little one to ditch his bad habits, before they become ingrained in him.

Reduce his need for the pacifier

Using a pacifier during the day can slow down his speech development, so try and get rid of it. If binning it seems harsh, keep it just for bedtime and store under your toddler’s pillow or in a special box next to the cot, so he associates it with night-time. If you want to ditch it entirely, Sue Atkins, author of Parenting Made Easy: How To Raise Happy Children, suggests you make a “pacifier tree” together with your mini-me. “Use ribbon to hang the pacifier on a tree in the garden or a potted plant for the ‘dummy fairy’ to take away. And make sure the ‘fairy’ leaves a thank-you toy behind.’’

Wean him off his blanket

As with pacifiers, having a favourite blanket or teddy bear in the cot is one thing, but clutching it all day can become problematic — especially if it gets lost. “To help wean your child off it, try saying, ‘Now that you’re a big boy, you don’t need to bring blankie today, do you?’” says Atkins. “The next time you’re going out, ‘accidentally’ forget to bring along the blankie.” It’s normal for small children to need a security boost from a beloved item, but if you give him extra hugs, smiles and praises during the day, it will be enough for him to slowly forget about it.

Reassure him

This can occur anytime during the first few years, and is often due to separation anxiety, which usually peaks by 18 months. He might start crying when you leave the room or even appear at your bedside. Atkins’ advice is to stay calm, return him to his bed, then help him to self-soothe by keeping to a familiar routine, like a story. She notes, “It will take four nights for him to relearn how to settle. If he’s crying, reassure him, but don’t make it into a big deal.”

Feed him earlier

It’s fine to feed your sweetie to sleep occasionally, especially during the first three months. But carry on for too long and he may not be able to nod off without a feed. To break the cycle, make feeding an earlier part of his bedtime routine and finish with a song or story instead.

“Expect some crying but smile, reassure him and don’t give in,” Atkins advises. If he continues crying, get your husband to take over and calm him down.

Baby sucking thumb

Thumb-sucking is okay for babies

While most parents see thumb-sucking as adorable, others worry that it will affect their little one’s teeth and speech development. But don’t panic just yet. “It’s only once the mouth starts to get ready for the adult teeth, when your kid is about 4 or 5 years old that it becomes a problem,” explains orthodontist Dr Runa Mowla-Copley. “It’s a huge comfort, so I wouldn’t discourage a toddler.” Most children give it up naturally by the time they start primary school. However, if it persists, take him to a dentist, who will explain how it affects his teeth, and that could do the trick.

Best Bets

Encourage good behavior in your mini-me with tips from parenting guru Sue Atkins.

• Stick to the rules Make sure your child knows and understands what’s acceptable. For example, if you’re going to keep the pacifier strictly for cot-time, explain this carefully. And remind him about it often.

Be a team player Write your rules with your husband. Otherwise, children will play one off against the other and you may resent your man if he doesn’t stick to the plan.

Praise your tot Even if he makes the tiniest progress. You want to fill up his emotional tanks with praise, smiles and hugs, not teach him that he’s always getting it wrong.

Photos: iStock

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