Health and Wellness

4 Habit Disorders – How To Overcome!

Dr Himani Khanna
3 to 7 years

Created by Dr Himani Khanna
Updated on Oct 20, 2016

 4 Habit Disorders How To Overcome

As a first-time mom, do you get distressed when you see your baby banging her head or holding her breath or biting nails? How often have you told your baby not to suck the thumb?  Our expert Dr Himani Khanna – Developmental Paediatrician, Artemis, Gurgaon, tells you how to overcome the four common habit disorders prevalent in children

What are habit disorders? In medical terms, repetitive, non-functional behaviours that do not result in injury or interfere with normal activities and which occur in the context of normal development and typically resolve without specific treatment are called habit behavioural disorders. Some commonly observed habit disorders are:

  • Thumb sucking
  • Nail biting
  • Breath holding
  • Head banging and body rocking

How to tackle?

1.  Increase your awareness – Knowing the cause and the extent of the problem is the first step.

  • What is the extent of the problem? When we talk about the extent of the problem it is important to know some facts: Most children (and even adults) develop habit behaviours at some point in their lifetime. Overall, about 15-20 percent of children under the age of 3-years will exhibit some kind of habit behaviour of which a whopping 80 percent are prone to thumb sucking and about 4-5 percent to breath holding.
  • What is the cause? The cause may vary depending upon the habit; for instance, pain or anger may cause breath holding; anxiety is related to nail biting and sleepiness may result in head banging or body rocking.
  • What can be done? You can take some action at your end (suggested below) and if this does not work, worry not! Take medical advice – there are various tools and ways to get your child rid of these persisting habits and it comes under ‘habit reversal therapy’.

2.    Take action – There are different corrective measures depending on the nature, extent and cause of the disorder. Here is what you can do

Thumb sucking

  •   You may choose to ignore in children under 4 years since this habit wears off by 6 years without intervention.
  •   Praise and reward your child for not sucking thumb.
  •   Use a bandage on the thumb – it serves as a ‘not to suck’ reminder to the child
  •   If the problem persists beyond 5 years of age, run a check with an orthodontist.

Nail biting

  •  To begin with, keep nails short.
  • Must rule out anxiety – the underlying emotional disorder that finds a vent in this habit. Reassure your child regularly and try to understand the possible things that could be bothering your child.
  •  If the problem persists beyond 5 years of age, run a check with an orthodontist.

Breath Holding

  • This habit usually wears off by 5 years of age, so if the frequency is not too much, you may wait and watch.
  • If the problem persists beyond 5 years of age, run a check with your paediatrician.
  • Before visiting the doctor:
  • Take a video of your child when he/she is breath holding – it will help the doctor ascertain the severity of the problem and suggest treatment accordingly.  
  • Check for anaemia through a blood test. Take this report with you as well when you visit the doctor.

Head Banging/Head Rolling/Body Rocking

  • These may occur separately or together in healthy children around sleep time and wears off usually by 4 years of age without doctor’s intervention.
  • If behaviour persists beyond 4 years of age, take your child to the doctor

If your child is in the school-going age, here is what you can do:

  • Increase awareness of habit –  When your child is biting nails, have him/her look in the mirror. This will make your child more conscious of what he/she is doing and may motivate a ‘self-correction’.
  • Teach a competing response – Equip your child with alternate ways to give up the habit, such as chewing gum or blowing air through pursed lips or anything that you as a mother feel can help distract your child.
  • Inculcate relaxation techniques – Some techniques that work well are deep breathing, visualisation (tell your child a story and make him imagine it in his mind), muscle relaxation and so on. 

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| Jun 28, 2017

My one year old baby bangs her head on floor or with hands if we don't give something she demands

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| Dec 16, 2016

mam meri daughter jo 8years ki he every time woh thumb ko scratch karke uski skin nikal dattti he ki blood pressure ane lag jata he me kya karu plzzz suzzest me

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| Dec 07, 2016

my son bites pencils ,erasers, remotes what to do. he cuts piece of pencil ,eraser n throw dem.

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| Nov 08, 2016

My daughter bites her hand and beat her head to show her anger. donno how to stop it. please tell me how to increase her tolerance level. and I also like to know whether I should take her to a paediatric doctor

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| Oct 31, 2016

mine loves to dig her nose how to get her to stop. latest is chewing her sleeve or collars

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| Oct 27, 2016

my daughter has habbit of thumb sucking

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