Many children pick up bad habits or repetitive behaviours. These habits can provide some form of comfort when a child is bored or stressed and most of the time they probably don’t even realise they’re doing it. Some very common childhood habits are thumb sucking, nose picking, nail biting, body rocking, knee jerking and hair chewing.
Hair chewing may seem like a harmless habit but it can sometimes have some pretty serious health implications. Trichophagia is the term given to the compulsive chewing or eating of hair. The hair is swallowed and this can accumulate into a massive hair ball which creates a potentially life threatening condition. The hair is indigestible and requires surgery to remove it. This picture shows a hairball being removed from a stomach. However, this is an extreme case and hair chewing to this extent is pretty rare. In most cases, hair chewing is simply a comfort and is only a temporary problem which children grow out of, but it is quite unhygienic and can be very damaging to the ends of the hair.
Of course it’s difficult to judge whether a habit is something a child will grow out of or whether it is something which needs to be stopped. The general rule is that if it’s a habit that’s causing upset or disruption then it needs to be broken and the best method of breaking a habit is through positive reinforcement. Reward your child whenever they manage to stop the habit or break the repetition, even if it’s only for a small amount of time.
There are other behaviours which are more in the category of behavioural problems such as sleep issues, bed wetting and fussy eating.
Xersia came to see us with her son Will who was having sleep problems.
I end up putting him to bed at night and I can stay there for anywhere between half an hour and an hour and a half just trying to get him to sleep. I can be in and out all night, it’s just got to the stage where it’s got to stop.
How long does he stay asleep for?
You can guarantee he will wake up around 10.00pm to 10:30pm and that’s when it will just continue throughout the night, he still has to have that contact with me.
What happens if you’re not there?
He wouldn’t go for anyone else and he would just cry.
And then you would go back and lie with him again?
What’s happening is by default you are rewarding the naughty behaviour. If he gets up and comes and gets you, then that’s good for him it’s exactly what he wants, he gets to have mummy back again.
Will rarely sleeps for more than three to four hours a night.
And neither does Xercia. Dr Dawn sends sleep specialist Mandy Gurney to give her some advice about sleeping and bedtime routine.
As he’s falling asleep I want you to stay with him, but I want to do what is called the gradual retreat programme.
So I want to start on the floor right next to his bed, do three nights there, then we will move to the end of the bed, here, then just here, inside the room and then just outside the door just there.
It’s still early days but mum thinks the plan is starting to work.
It’s been 4 months since I’ve started Will’s routine, and it’s taken us that long to get Will now to sleep most of the night. He’s happier, he’s not so clingy, because obviously he was just tired all the time. Umm, yeah, completely different child really, a lot happier!
It is not uncommon for children to have sleep problems, but there are things you can do. Help your child to relax before bedtime by providing a quiet activity, such as taking a warm bath, having a hot drink or reading a story; and definitely no TV or computers games before bedtime. Routine is one of the best things you can do to help your child sleep, so bedtimes should be at the same time every night. Also, try not to let your child sleep in the same bed as you otherwise they’ll quickly become dependent.
Another night time behavioural problem which is very common in young children is bed wetting. Chronic bed wetting can become a stressful situation both for the parent and the child and the most important thing is not to punish your child for wetting the bed, however hard work it becomes for you, remember it is something they have no control over and punishing them creates anxiety which can actually make the problem worse.
There are lots of different reasons for bed wetting, including an overactive bladder, slower development of control, or often just drinking too much fluid before bed, so make sure you limit your child’s intake of fluid before sleep and wake them up to take them to the toilet just before you go to bed yourself. There are treatments available if you sense this problem is getting out of control. If a child hasn’t wet the bed for 6 months or more and then begins wetting again this could be a sign that the child is anxious or stressed.
Most habits and problematic behaviours are things which children will grow out of but if you are worried that your child may have deeper or longer term issues the best bet is to contact your doctor for advice.
From hair-chewing to nose-picking, Dr Christian is back to discuss the bad habits and repetitive behaviours of children, which can have some pretty serious consequences. But will our children grow out of these habits or do they need to be stopped? Dr Christian explains how parents can help their children break bad habits through positive reinforcement. But what can be done about behavioural problems such as sleep issues, bed wetting and fussy eating? The Embarrassing Bodies team investigate, as Zersha and her son, Will, who suffers from sleep problems, pay Dr Dawn Harper a visit at the clinic. Referred to a sleep specialist, Zersha and Will are placed on a ‘gradual retreat programme’, in order to mend Will’s sleeping problem, but will it work? Back at the clinic, Dr Christian advises parents how they can help their children (and themselves!) get a better night’s sleep. Dr Christian then discusses bed-wetting in more detail: what causes it and how to prevent it. If you’re worried your child may have deeper issues, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor.
quinnums – http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinn/171571
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