Be it pulling hair, sucking their thumb, biting their nails, or even something like picking their nose, children can develop plenty of bad habits that can drive parents crazy. The good news is that most children start to get more conscious control over their practices around age 8, but until then, there are some things you can do to help curb some of those bad habits until then.

Don’t Punish Them

Since children aren’t even aware of these bad habits, punishing them might have the opposite effect. Children do these things because it gives them some sense of relief, almost like an outlet when stressed or upset. Causing more stress through yelling at them or punishing them might trigger the habit to become even more prominent in dealing with the added stress.

Find the Trigger

Usually, these behaviors are triggered by something. Sometimes it is general stress and anxiety. Sometimes it’s restlessness; other times, it is to help with concentration, like when doing homework. Keep track of what these trigger points are and try to notice any patterns you see. Observing your child for a week should give you a general idea of when these habits are most prominent.

Mitigate the Behavior

Since your child likely isn’t aware of the behavior, your goal is to raise awareness and force them to interrupt the process independently. Left to their own devices, this can be a bit difficult, but you can use tools to help bring things to their attention. If your child’s habit requires them to use their hands, like biting their nails or picking their nose, have them wear snow gloves or mittens when the habit kicks in. The extra effort needed to work around the mittens or the gloves will force them to recognize their behavior and stop it independently.

Replace It

While breaking these habits is the main goal, it’s important to remember that these behaviors serve a purpose. They’re usually a way for the subconscious to relax or an outlet for anxiety. Finding some other behavior that is either more benign or even beneficial can be a great way to help break the bad habits. Not only are you training their minds not to perform the bad habit, but you’re also instilling a substitute that serves the same purpose to replace it.