Arranging Everything Just So

Some children are fussy about their things. They like everything in it’s place. Others care so little about this that their parents struggle with them for two decades to clear a path to their beds! And yet, despite the obvious benefits of being very neat and organized, this trait can sometimes be problematic. The basic question is, when is it too much?

If your child has to have everything “just so,” consider the following tips:

Monkey See, Monkey Do
If you or your spouse also like everything “just so,” it may simply be that your child is copying your style. Sometimes, the child’s copy is more intense than the parent’s original, but if it is in the same department, it may be nothing more than a learned behavior. As long as none of  you gets overly distressed when something is out of place, there is nothing to be concerned about. However, if any of you become extremely agitated when something is missing or not in exactly the right position or angle, then things are not quite as they should be. In that case consider the information below.

Nervous Habits
Arranging things “just so” can help calm inner feelings of tension and mild anxiety. Tension might be barely perceptible, not even conscious. However, straightening things up can bring a pleasant sense of order to an inner chaotic state, even when the person is not even aware of the inner chaos. In other cases, the person IS aware of feeling uptight or bothered and knows full well that cleaning, straightening, organizing or adjusting things helps calm him or her down.  Even when it accomplishes this, however, the inner tension has not been properly dealt with. There are much better ways of handling stress, such as using mindfulness meditation to see what exactly the stress is and to clear it out of the system, or some other strategy like EFT (emotional freedom technique) or Focusing (a technique for paying direct attention to the stress in the body to ‘meet and greet’ it and release it).

Consider an Anxiety Disorder
An intense need to have everything “just so” can also be part of the anxiety disorder called “obsessive-compulsive disorder” (OCD). The same psychological dynamics are at play in OCD as described above for normal stress and tension. However, in the case of OCD, the brain itself gets “hooked” or addicted to the behavior that releases the stress (in this case, arranging things just so). Once the brain is hooked, failing to be able to arrange things just so can cause an intense withdrawal reaction, including feelings of panic, rage, overwhelm, extreme irritation, and more. OCD is a physical disorder, a condition of the brain itself. Fortunately, the brain can be rewired to become “un-addicted” – but this may take some professional cognitive-behavioral therapy (and in some rare cases, the help of medication). Parents need to know how to help their compulsive child because ignorance not only fails to help, but it can actually worsen the child’s brain condition. In other words, when parents respond appropriately to their child’s need to arrange things just so, they can help re-wire the child’s brain, but when they respond inappropriately, they can actually help wire it in the WRONG direction! Therefore, if you suspect that your child may be suffering from OCD or OCD-like behavior, arrange for a consultation with a child psychologist or other mental health professional for a proper assessment and, if necessary, treatment plan.

Head-Banging

Seeing one’s child banging his or her head against the wall or a wooden bed is alarming for parents, especially if the child is a baby or toddler. Parents are not only concerned about the possible pain and injury that may result from such an activity – they are also worried about the child’s psychological well-being. “Is something wrong with my baby?” is a reasonable question for parents to ask when their child deliberately harms himself.

In fact, in most cases, a child’s head-banging is caused by a normal desire for stimulation or soothing (as we will discuss below) — not by underlying mental health issues. Additionally, young kids rarely hurt themselves during head banging enough to cause considerable pain or head damage. Head-banging may also occur in certain developmental syndromes such as autism. In these cases, there will be other neurological and behavioral symptoms besides head banging. In an otherwise healthy child, head-banging is not a matter for intense concern.

What’s Behind Head-Banging?
Head banging can be a way for kids to get stimulation. The habit can relieve the discomfort of boredom or stress. Remember that during the toddler years, kids are in the process of understanding and appreciating different body sensations such as sights, sounds and  even feelings of pain and discomfort. The sensation that comes when we bang our heads against a hard surface is new and foreign to a child, and understandably, the child is curious about it. Thus he may repeat head-banging so that he can explore the sensation better.

It’s also possible for children to head-bang in order to soothe themselves when they are anxious, in discomfort or otherwise distressed. In these cases, head banging is no different from thumb sucking or nail biting. It’s ironic, but it’s possible that children find the pain of head banging a distraction for their current discomfort or unease. Some kids may also find the rhythm of soft head banging comforting, in the same way that a slow and steady drum beat can be soothing, rhythmic head banging can be reassuring to a child.

What can Parents Do?
Safety is always a primary concern. Even if head-banging is usually harmless, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few extra precautions. As much as possible, keep young children away from hard surfaces like walls or bed posts. If there’s a risk that they will run into a hard surface, protect your child by putting a soft pillow or foam padding as insulation. If you can make it impossible for your child to head-bang against something hard, then you can worry less about head-banging behavior.

It may also help to provide your child with stimulation and soothing when you feel that he or she needs it. Toys of different shapes and colors, as well as materials of varying comfortable textures and temperatures can provide stimulation to a child. Rocking, singing a lullaby or a soft massage are also positive ways to provide soothing.

When parents suspect that unease, discomfort or stress is causing the head-banging behavior, they can offer their child the Bach Flower Remedy Agrimony. Two drops in liquid four times a day can be used until the banging diminishes. Or, for a more complete treatment, call a Bach Flower Practitioner. You can find more information about the Bach Remedies online and throughout this site.

Older children who are banging their heads may need more than Bach Remedies (although these should be tried first). Stress reduction through professional psychological counseling may be very helpful. If very young children are stressed, family counseling may be preferable. Parents may be able to make environmental changes that put the child more at ease.

When Should Parents be Concerned?
While head-banging is generally normal and harmless, there are occasions of head-banging behavior when parents need to provide their children with stronger interventions and/or professional help.

One situation is when kids use head banging as a way to get negative attention, punish themselves or release anger and frustration. When head banging is a deliberate action to achieve an end, parents should arrange a consultation with a child psychologist. The psychologist may help the parents intervene in more appropriate ways or he or she may work with the child directly in order to reduce underlying tensions.

But a second situation is when parents suspect an underlying medical or psychological condition behind the head banging behavior. If head banging is seen alongside symptoms of social withdrawal, delayed speech and motor development, and inability to empathize, parents should consider consult their pediatrician. A referral to a mental health professional for assessment can confirm or rule out a diagnosis of autism or pervasive developmental disorder. Head banging that seems beyond a child’s control may be a symptom of Tourette’s Syndrome. Various seizure disorders may also account for head banging behavior. To be certain, it’s best to get a child diagnosed by the appropriate medical or mental health professional.

Rocking and Shaking

Babies often rock back and forth in their cribs starting around 6 months of age and are usually growing out of it by around a year and a half. The motion of their own bodies is soothing; babies love the sensation of being rocked by themselves or others.

Some children (and adults!)  also use rhythmic movements to “calm their nerves.” Rocking back and forth or shaking their legs helps to relieve stress. The behavior may be done almost subconsciously (without conscious intention or awareness) – it just seems to happen on its own. In other words, the child or teen does not actively think to him or herself, “I’ll rock now” or “I’ll shake my legs now.” While the child is sitting in a chair working or talking, the movements occur. Other people can interrupt the process by pointing it out: “Stop shaking your legs!” At that point, the child becomes aware that he or she was moving his legs. However, just a few minutes after stopping the movement, it usually starts again.

If your child is a “mover and shaker,” consider the following tips:

Rhythmic Movements are Usually Harmless
In otherwise normal children and teens, rocking and/or shaking is a harmless “nervous habit.” However, like other nervous habits, it can become socially unacceptable. Excessive movements disturb other people, even though they don’t seem to bother the rocker/shaker. There is an annoyance factor when someone keeps moving his or her body. If your child’s teacher reports negative peer reactions or other disturbances in school as a result of rocking or shaking, it’s time to help your child lose this habit and find more appropriate ways to self-soothe. When rocking and other rhythmic behaviors occur in a child who has other neurological or behavioral abnormalities, be sure to get a complete medical or psychiatric assessment. In these cases, the rocking may be part of a medical syndrome that requires attention.

Nagging Doesn’t Help
Telling a child to stop rocking or shaking is not an effective way of curing the habit. Although the child may stop for a moment or two, he or she will start again. Since the behavior is out of the child’s awareness, he or she is not exactly aware of when it begins or even that it is happening and therefore, has no effective way to interrupt it on a regular basis. It is annoying for the child to be told repeatedly to stop moving. Since this strategy causes tension between parent and child and does not effectively treat the problem, it cannot be recommended!

Stress Reduction May Help
Anything that helps the child relax his or her nervous system will help both directly and indirectly. The direct form of help is that it may relieve the tension and therefore the need to self-soothe. The indirect form is that it may make it easier for the child to successfully apply behavioral strategies. Herbal remedies or Bach Flower Remedies that calm the body and mind can be very helpful in both regards. See a professional herbalist or naturopath to assess your child and make up the appropriate herbal remedies. Alow time to see the results. Similarly, see a Bach Flower Practitioner to make up an individually tailored treament bottle for your child. Consider remedies like Agrimony and Impatiens and others that address your child’s personality. A homeopath or other natural healer may be able to help as well. In addition, it may be possible to teach the child stress reduction techniques like yoga or even breath-based meditations (or, for teens, mindfulness meditation). In some cases, regular, intense exercise will be helpful. Of course, reducing stress in the house is always helpful so anything you can do to keep calm, enhance your marriage and de-stress yourself, will help as well.

Behavioral Therapy
When rocking becomes dysfunctional (excessive, bothersome, embarrassing or otherwise disturbing), consult a behavioral therapist – someone who is experienced and skilled in the treatment of habits. There are also habit removal workbooks (i.e. The Habit Change Workbook by Pedrick) that you may be able to work through with your child or that your older child or teen can work through indepedently.

Picking at Skin

There are different ways to pick at one’s skin.  Some people, including children and teens, pick at the skin around the nails of the hand. Others pick at little scabs or sores that may be anywhere on the body (such as insect bites, blemishes, or injuries). Some create little sores by scratching themselves or irritating normal surface “bumps” on the skin and then, they pick at the newly formed sore. Some pick at their scalp. “Dermatillomania” is one name for this condition, although each type of picking has its own distinct name.

Lack of Control
Picking at the skin is an impulse control disorder. It has been compared to trichotillomania – a condition in which one pulls out one’s own hair from the eyebrows, or the eyelashes or from the scalp. It has also been likened to OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), a disorder in which a person performs ritualistic behaviors in order to reduce anxiety. Dermatillomania has also been considered to be a sub-category of Tourette’s Syndrome – a condition in which a person has compulsive tics (movements and sounds that just MUST be made, even though they serve no constructive purpose. No matter which way we categorize skin picking, it is always seen as a behavior that is related to tension release.

Stress and Dermatillomania
Skin picking occurs more frequently when a person feels stressed. It also decreases when a person is feeling more relaxed and in-control of their lives. Therefore, treatments aim to reduce tension and build emotional stability. Skin pickers often do not have healthy ways of handling their stressful emotions. Psychotherapy may be helpful – especially with teens and adults. Children may benefit from art therapy. Techniques like EFT (emotional freedom technique) can sometimes be helpful. Meditation and relaxation training, as well as hypnosis, have all been helpful in addressing this disorder. For adolescents and adults, there are also support groups that can be helpful. The workbook “The Habit Change Workbook” by Claiborn and Pedrick, takes a cognitive behavioral self-help approach that can also make a positive difference. Psychotropic medications like anti-depressants are sometimes used as part of the treatment. Each person who picks at his or skin has different psychological needs and therefore treatment is individualized to address those needs.

Getting Help
Skin picking can make a person feel out-of-control and ashamed. It is often done in hiding and it is rarely spoken about. People are embarrassed and therefore don’t even talk to their doctor about it. Therefore, people don’t get the help that is available for this highly treatable disorder. If you think that your child may have this disorder, or even if you are just concerned about seeing picking behaviors on occasion, do consider arranging for a mental health assessment. A professional will let you know whether treatment is necessary or not and if so, help design a treatment program that can help way beyond stopping this symptom.

Pulls Out Hair

Hair-pulling in children and adolescents may be perceived as a harmless habit. After all, if your child likes to pull, say 3-5 strands of hair a day, it shouldn’t make much difference to his or her scalp and hair health. The amount of hair that falls off naturally probably exceeds the couple of strands kids and teens pull for fun anyways. When should hair pulling become a concern?

Hair-pulling behavior can range in severity from mild to severe. There are those who ritualize hair-pulling for aesthetic purposes, e.g. getting rid daily of the strands that don’t fall obediently with the rest, or hair considered as “dead”. There are others who pull hair strands when they’re frustrated or upset. And then there are those who suffer from an impulse control disorder called trichotillomania – compulsive hair-pulling that can be so bad, sufferers end up with permanent patches of baldness.

What’s Behind Compulsive Hair-Pulling?
Like many impulse control disorders, compulsive hair-pulling is caused by a feeling of incredible tension and anxiety. For some reason, hair-pulling relieves the tension and anxiety. Once the hair-pulling is done, the child or teen with trichotillomania feels an immediate sense of release, gratification and even pleasure. This dynamic of “tension-behavior-relief” is what makes hair-pulling addictive, progressive and after a while, very difficult to resist.

Hair-pulling in trichotillomania is often concentrated on the hair on the head, although sufferers may also focus on eyelashes, eyebrows, moustache and beard, and hair from other places of the body. Hair-pulling can be of individual strands, although more serious versions of the illness have patients pulling clumps at a time.

Are There Serious Health Effects?
At first, hair-pulling may not cause any physical harm to hair follicles and the scalp. If compulsive hair-pulling can be stopped early, hair growth resumes normally. But in severe cases, repeated hair-pulling can irreversibly damage hair follicles, inhibiting the ability of hair to grow, resulting in permanent baldness.

How can Parents Help Kids and Teens with Hair-Pulling Problems?
There are many ways parents can assist their children with compulsive hair-pulling.

First, it helps to understand that compulsive hair-pulling behavior is an impulse control disorder. This means that it won’t go away by simply telling your child to stop. In fact, unless your child is too young to understand the impact of his or her condition, your child likely already wants to stop — except that he or she can’t seem to quit.

What parents can do is address the tension and anxiety that causes hair-pulling behavior. Hair-pulling is essentially a coping mechanism, a way to get relief from stress. This is not as irrational as it sounds, and may have a biological basis. When our bodies feel pain, such as after the hurt caused by hair-pulling, our brain releases natural pain relievers that makes us feel good. It’s this feeling that people with trichotillomania like and chase, not the act of pulling hair. Although reducing stress will help the child have less intense episodes of hair-pulling, it will not cure the condition. A cure generally requires therapy. However, parents can reduce stress by being careful not to yell at the child or use harsh discipline, help manage the child’s academic load by consulting with teachers as necessary, limit the amount of marital conflict they display in front of their child and so on. In addition, they can teach their child healthy ways to release stress such as through exercise, the use of natural remedies like Bach Flower Remedies (consult a practitioner for best results), use of aromatherapy (consult a book or a practitioner for ideas), use of yoga, breathing techniques, EFT (emotional freedom technique) and other self-help strategies.

It’s best if parents can see professional help for their child who is pulling hair. Professionals can set up a cognitive-behavioral therapy to help decrease hair-pulling.

At the end of the day, compulsive hair pulling is not really about hair, nor about beauty and appearance. It’s about internal regulation and emotional management. If symptoms persist or worsen despite the interventions listed above, then parents are recommended to consult a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Twirls Hair

Children (and adults!) have “nervous habits.” These are often little useless movements or actions like rubbing the forehead, cracking knuckles, nibbling at fingernails, shaking legs back and forth, rocking back and forth and so on. Hair-twirling – taking a strand of hair and wrapping it around a finger – is a popular nervous habit from infancy onward.

If your child engages in hair twirling, consider the following tips:

Nervous Habits Reduce Feelings of Stress
Those who understand the human energy system can often describe how a nervous habit contributes to feelings of soothing and comfort. For instance, when people bump into something, they’ll often instinctively rub the injured part of their body. This is because humans are wired to help themselves heal without even knowing how or why they are doing it. They rub the injury instinctively – not because they’ve been told to do it. The rubbing activity brings increased blood circulation to the area and also brings energetic healing to the wound. Indeed, the whole business of “hands on healing” has to do with the energy stored within our bodies that can be transferred through hands to another part of our own or another’s body. In a similar way, rubbing the head, nibbling fingers and so on, initiates energetic healing that reduces stressful feelings and increases calm.

Children and teens engage more in their favorite nervous habit when they are more stressed. This increased stress may be due to outside pressure like school exams or internal pressure like fatigue. Tired children will often curl up on their mother’s lap and twirl their hair. The twirling activity acts like a pacifier, calming their internal agitation, exhaustion or fear.

Hair-Twirling is Not Hair Pulling
Some children will not only twirl a strand of hair, but then they will pull it out of their head. This habit is called trichotillomania. It is a mental health disorder which is a type of impulse disorder. Hair-pulling is a compulsive activity – one that is very difficult to stop without professional assistance. Hair-pulling, like hair twirling, occurs more often when a child is experiencing stress, but it’s real purpose is to reduce anxiety.  In other words, hair-pullers have more internal pressure than simple hair twirlers have. Moreover, hair-pulling leads to feelings of helplessness and shame when left untreated. Hair-twirling usually doesn’t bother the person who does it. Hair-pulling is best treated by a child psychologist.

Helping Your Child Stop Hair-Twirling
Toddlers frequently engage in hair-twirling and as they become a little older, they just as frequently grow out of the habit. Therefore, the best thing to do for young hair twirlers is NOTHING. However, if your child is still twirling her hair when she is six or older, you can help her in a few ways. Nagging is not one of them. Besides being detrimental to the parent-child relationship and to the child’s development, nagging is also completely ineffective as a deterrent to hair twirling! What helps more, is reducing the child’s stress and re-directing her behavior.

Stress-reduction for children and teens can often be accomplished with Bach Flower Therapy – harmless vibrational remedies (water) that are available at health food stores. The Bach remedy Agrimony is particularly helpful for those who have bad habits. However, a consultation with a Bach Flower Therapist can be most helpful – read up on the descriptions of the 38 remedies to pick the ones that most fit the profile of your child (you can find more info online and on this site). Up to 7 remedies can be mixed together in one “treatment” bottle and used until the twirling subsides. If twirling begins again, start giving the remedy mixture again. Continue off and on in this way until the twirling has stopped completely.

Anything you can do to reduce stress in the house will be helpful in a general way. Quiet parenting techniques and a happy relationship with your spouse can only help. However, a child’s hair twirling can certainly happen even in a very low stress environment and even when she is very emotionally secure. It’s really more a matter of personal stress style, inherited tendencies and so on.

You might try giving your child something to hold in her hands when you notice she has been twirling. The hands, as discussed above, have energy centers that can help regulate stress. Holding or playing with something in the hand is a more socially acceptable soother than hair twirling. You can get your child a worry stone (a smooth stone for rubbing) or a fidget toy of some kind. Always give her something to DO with her hands instead of just asking her to stop playing with her hair.

In order to break the habit, you can also give your child a hairstyle that makes twirling very hard to do – tight braids or very short hair. It takes about 21 days to break a habit, so after that period, you can probably go back to her old hairdo. However, NEVER give a child a hairstyle that she doesn’t like as this can actually be traumatic for her.

If the hair twirling won’t stop and it bothers you or the child, consult a psychologist. A professional can offer techniques that are used for more intense issues like trichotillomania but that will also help with hair twirling.

Nail Biting

So, your child bites his nails. (The technical term for the compulsion is onychophagia.) Don’t worry, there’s more than one way of weaning him out of the habit— and none of them involves chili peppers! If your child can’t seem to leave his nails alone, consider the following suggestions:

Start with Increasing Awareness
Nail-biters are rarely aware of what they are doing, until someone directs their attention to their action. So before you issue your child a reprimand, consider the possibility that he may just be acting out of instinct, and has no idea that nail-biting is an undesirable behavior.

If this is the case, then simply start by explaining that nail-biting is not a hygienic habit, and can cause germs to travel to the mouth (talk of tiny little worms is recommended at this point — which is not a lie! Some worms are microscopic, and may be found in the dirt under one’s fingernails). Explain to your child that you would like to help him avoid nail-biting as much as possible. More so, you would like him to stop immediately once he catches himself biting his nails. Putting the responsibility of managing behavior onto your child is a good beginning education in self-regulation.

(In the meantime, cut the child’s nails short so he or she won’t have much to bite!)

Ring the Bell on Nail-Biting
As mentioned, nail-biting can be an automatic behavior, often done outside of a person’s awareness. If you want to remove an automatic habit, you have to increase consciousness. You have to make the action as obtrusive as possible.

Bracelets with loud bangles can be used as a warning device for nail-biting. As the child raises her hand to bite her nails, she will be notified by the jingle of the bracelets. This may be enough to stop her mid-track.  A consequence when caught nail-biting, such as reciting a poem or song (the consequence need not be unpleasant; simply “obtrusive”) may also be implemented. It can be enough to break-up the automatic sequence in the brain. When the child is slowed down by any consequence following biting, the brain registers this slightly aversive activity and tries to avoid it by stopping the precursor – the nail biting itself.

Consider Nail-Biting as a Symptom of Stress or Tension
It’s possible that kids nail-bite to release tension or manage insecurity. If this is the case, the best thing to do is address the cause of their unease. Otherwise, other nervous habits might just replace nail-biting and you’ll be back at square one again.

So try to be observant. When do your kids nail bite? Where do they nail bite? What situations trigger the behavior? Which people seem to reinforce it? Gathering this information can help you discover sources of stress or tension in a child’s life. For kids, plain, old-fashioned boredom can trigger stress that triggers nail-biting. Nail-biting may also be a general self-soothing activity that follows conflict in the home, studying for exams, worrying about something or some other tension. Giving kids effective stress-release tools can diminish or stop the habit of biting. For instance, stress can be relieved by Bach Flower Therapy (see a practitioner or learn more about this harmless form of stress relief on-line), daily physical exercise, relaxation training (meditation or yoga for kids) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). Some kids will benefit from professional counseling or specific therapies for breaking habits. A child specialist (art therapist, child psychologist or other mental health professional) can be very helpful.

Or Just Let it Be…
While nail-biting is a common habit among children, it’s not a serious one. It also tends to go away on its own, so no intervention may just be the intervention that you need. If the habit persists for several months, or if it’s so intense that it causes bleeding in the nails, then a physician or a child psychologist should be consulted. Keep in mind too, that some adults still bite their nails. Early intervention can prevent a lifelong habit.

Habits and Nervous Behavior

Everyone has some bad habits. And everyone engages in their bad habits more often when they are feeling tense or nervous. For instance, a teenager or adult may have taken up the “bad habit” of smoking cigarettes. The smoker will almost always be smoking more often when feeling anxious. Younger children can have habits like picking their nose, biting their nails, or twirling their hair. (You can learn more about these bad habits and how to help them by reading articles under the category Nervous Habits on this site). Some kids crack their knuckles, chew their pencils, or nibble on their shirt cuffs. Some rock back and forth in their chairs. In fact, there is hardly a limit to the type of bad habit that a child can “invent!”

If your child has some bad habits or nervous behaviors, consider the following tips:

Nervous Behavior Means the Child is Nervous!
Whether it is pacing back and forth, pulling out hairs, or shaking one’s leg, the purpose of a habit is to release some nervous tension. If you can address the tension directly, the habit will most likely go away (or at least diminish) all by itself. Instead of telling your youngster to stop shaking his leg, offer him something for his “nerves.” Now this doesn’t mean that you should offer him a stiff drink! (That’s a bad habit that a lot of adults are into!). There are plenty of healthy, child-safe “stress busters” that you can offer your child. For instance, your child might be calmed by the right herbal tea. A herbalist or naturopath might be able to prescribe a herbal mixture that reduces your child’s overall level of tension or “nerves.” Herbs can be prepared as bedtime tea’s or they can be taken as syrups or even lollipops when they are made by a professional herbalist. Some herbs are available in tincture or tablet form from your local healthfood store. All herbs are medicinal so make sure that you consult a professional before giving your child herbal medicine. Less medicinal than herbs are essential oils. These, too, are available at healthfood stores. Aromatherapy – the use of essential oils to calm nervous tension – is less medicinal than herbal medicine, but still a little medicinal (for example, some oils need to be avoided in pregnancy or when someone has epilepsy). Therefore, it is adviseable to check with a professional aromatherapist before preparing oils for your child. However, once you learn which oils are safe and how you can prepare them for your child, you will find essential oils to be a delightful way to calm your child’s stress, help him sleep and reduce his nervous habits. A calming treatment that is not medicinal in any way is Bach Flower Therapy. The Bach Flower remedies are essentially water. They do not affect the body – rather, they affect the emotions. They help a child feel less upset, worried, angry or sad. They can help with excess nervous energy, anxious feelings or other “nervous” symptoms. You can read descriptions of the remedies on-line and choose the ones you think are most appropriate for your child or you can consult a professional Bach Flower Therapist. Always include Agrimony in your Bach Remedy mixture when you want to treat a nervous habit; Agrimony is the remedy that helps reduce nervous behaviors. In addition to natural therapies (and these are only a few of the treatments that are available), you may find that psychological counseling can help reduce your child’s anxiety and stress. Obviously this intervention is most important when your child is really stressed and nervous. However, your child who is just “the nervous type” (not very, very anxious), may benefit from psychological interventions as well. Most appropriate for the average child is EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), mindfulness meditation for children, CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) self-help workbooks and other psychoeducational tools. Exercise is another great way to reduce nervous energy: enroll your child in active sports, gymnastics, yoga, swimming – make sure your child is physically active daily!

Refrain from Telling Your Child to Stop His Habit
Telling a child to stop doing whatever he’s doing not only DOESN’T help, but it also hurts. Your child isn’t trying to be “bad” when engaging in a nervous habit. It’s almost like it is happening outside of his conscious awareness. Rather than telling him to stop, simply re-direct him to another activity. Interrupting habits helps to break up the strong neural pathway that is beginning to develop. For instance, suppose your child is sitting in a chair wildly kicking one leg back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Don’t tell the child to stop! Instead, ask him to please fetch you something from another part of the house. This will interrupt his habit and anything you can do to interrupt the pattern will be quite helpful.

Never Humiliate or Mock Your Child for His Nervous Habit
Some people try to “shame” their child out of their nervous habit. Even if you manage to cure a child this way, the cost is way too great. Don’t do it. There are better ways to cure a habit. For instance, if your child has a habit of nose-picking, DO NOT tell him he is disgusting! Instead, follow the steps you’ll find in the “Nose-Picking” article on this site.

Get Your Doctor’s Advice if a Habit is Persistent
Pediatricians have seen it all. Ask your child’s pediatrician for advice on how to help your child with his nervous habit.

Try to Reduce Stressful Events in Your Child’s Life
This can be a hard one. You might really WANT that divorce, even if it causes your child to become unravelled. However, do what you can to limit the stress your child is exposed to on a daily basis and you’ll find that his nervous habits diminish. Refrain from yelling at anyone or engaging in any kind of conflict. In fact, try to stay in a good mood when your child is around.  Nurture your own mental health by taking good care of yourself. This will help you be happier and calmer and this will only be good for your child. Getting help for yourself or your marriage or even your divorce, can be an important step in calming your household and supporting your child’s mental health.

Child Gambles

If you think that gambling is still a “strictly for adults only” enterprise, you are sadly mistaken. Unfortunately, gambling is fast becoming an epidemic among children and adolescents, with kids as young as 9 years old getting hooked. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that around 4% of American children are already addicted to gambling, with an anti-compulsive gambling advocate calling the situation a “hidden epidemic.”

Gambling and Kids
Gambling refers to the betting of money or anything of value on a game with uncertain result. Traditional gambling mediums include card games, casino machines, and betting on the outcome of sporting activities like soccer, boxing or horse racing. Gambling used to be a highly regulated (albeit multi-billion dollar) adult industry. But because of the advent of the internet, the relaxation of some state’s gambling laws to accommodate children, and the proliferation of lotteries and gaming arcades open to the general public, gambling has reached the younger population. Loss of parental control and financial difficulty in the family also add to the phenomenon. The situation is so bad that some kids end up owing bookies hundreds of thousands of dollars long before they even step into high school!

Gambling in itself is not bad; many people enjoy social gambling as a past time, a way to relax and unwind. But children are particularly vulnerable to becoming pathological gamblers – gamblers who are unable to resist the urge to gamble despite the serious consequences of their behavior. This is because young children and teens have yet to develop skills in managing impulses, assessing risks and chances, and appreciating the financial value of money surrendered to gambling hosts. Most of the time, children (like adults with gambling disorders) are stuck in the excitement of risk-taking and the thrill of a winning streak, with no awareness of the long-term negative consequences.

What can Parents Do?
As a parent, it’s important that you are aware of the signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling in children. Remember, in this age of technology, gambling behavior can be easy to hide (there are even betting agencies that collect simply by cellphone texts!). But like any addiction, the more serious it becomes, the more difficult it is to conceal.

What should parents look out for? Be mindful of secretive internet or newspaper browsing; your child may be following the results of an event he has a stake on. Watch out as well for unexplained loss or gain of money and material possessions. Check for sudden or gradual drop in grades, absences in school or loss of interest in tasks and activities that used to interest them before. Monitor their language; see if they are more prone to using gambling terms during conversations. Be aware of the people they interact with everyday — they might already be setting regular appointments with bookies.

If you’ve discovered that your child has a gambling problem, it’s best to confront him or her about it right away. Impulse control disorders rarely go away on their own, as kids have lost the ability to regulate their own behavior. Parental control and intervention is necessary. If the problem is only recent and mild, parents may be able to handle it on their own. However, when gambling is already more entrenched, professional intervention will be necessary. In some cases, parents may directly contact the casinos or the bookies to ensure that a child will not be allowed to gamble anymore. Implements can also be confiscated, such as credit cards, computers and cellphones. A child may also be grounded for awhile, allowing the compulsion to “cool off.” For serious young gamblers, mandatory visits to a mental health professional must be included along with these types of restrictions and guidelines. It is also very helpful for parents to attend twelve-step programs for family members of addicts while the child him or herself, attends similar regular meetings for addicts. Often, family therapy will be a useful adjunct to other interventions. Doing everything possible as soon as possible can help young gamblers heal their compulsion. On the other hand, ignoring the behavior or simply telling a child to “stop it” may lead to a lifetime of debilitating, destructive gambling activities.

Substance Abuse

One of the strongest fears among parents today is that their child will develop an addiction to a drug or illegal substance. This fear is understandable; addiction is a progressive, life-threatening disorder that affects both physical health and mental functioning. All parents want to see their children live the life that they deserve; addiction is a one way path to destruction.

Addiction, also called substance dependency, typically begins with substance use followed by substance abuse.

Substance Use and Intoxication
Substance use is simply choosing to partake of a substance, whether it’s something found in everyday meals (e.g. caffeine, sugar) or something more threatening such as lifestyle drugs (e.g. alcohol, nicotine from cigarettes), regulated medicines (e.g. cough syrup, pain killers, ADHD drugs), or illegal drugs (e.g. cocaine, marijuana in some states, hallucinogens). In the case of non-illegal substances, substance use means eating or drinking within acceptable limits or within the amount prescribed by a medical practitioner. In the case of illegal drugs and some regulated chemicals, substance use refers to the “experimentation stage”, when kids decide to try “just once” a prohibited substance.

Substance use can lead to a condition called intoxication, or the experience of the natural effects of substance use in the body. Alcohol intoxication, for example, results in poor vision, impaired judgment, blurry speech, loss of memory and poor sense of balance. Stronger psychoactive drugs, like hallucinogens, can cause temporary feelings of euphoria and loss of reality. Not all feelings produced by intoxication are pleasant ones. Intoxication can also cause overwhelming anxiety or even psychotic episodes. Intoxication is a usually a temporary state that goes away after the substance is flushed out of the body.

Substance Abuse and Dependency
Substance use has progressed to substance abuse when the dosage of the chemical taken is no longer within reasonable limits (for instance, drinking 5 cups of coffee with every meal every day), or when a person continues to use an illegal substance to get some positive effect, such as a feeling of euphoria or relief. Abuse is the choice to use a substance despite experiencing negative effects of the behavior, such as poor grades, interpersonal problems or loss of money. The key word in this definition of abuse is “choice”; the person is not yet dependent on the substance. Dependency occurs once tolerance sets in (see below), and withdrawal symptoms (see below) result from abstinence from the drug or chemical.

Tolerance and Withdrawal
Tolerance and withdrawal are the two hallmarks of an addiction.

Tolerance refers to the body’s natural adaptation to a drug or substance. When a person becomes tolerant to a drug, a dosage that used to produce a specific effect will fail to deliver the results it used to. For example, if 5 mg of a drug used to be enough to grant a feeling of high, now a higher dosage is required to achieve the same effect.  Similarly, if one pain reliever used to work sufficiently well to relieve a headache, tolerance can result in needing double or triple the dose to get the same amount of relief.

Withdrawal symptoms are the negative effects of not using a substance that one is already dependent on. Many people have experienced minor withdrawal effects from going off of coffee or sugar. When dependent on alcohol and drugs, however, withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe. They may include physical effects (headaches, insomnia, shaking, increased heart rate, vomiting, sweating), emotional (depression, irritability, panic, hallucinations) or mental (obsession, difficulty in concentrating). The un-ease that comes during withdrawal is what promotes the addiction; the user now feels compelled to take a drug or substance, not for its positive effect, but because he or she can’t live without it.

What can Parents Do?
Bring home drug-education books from your local children’s library. Books for children use lots of pictures and simple explanations about the effects of alcohol and drugs on the body and mind as well as the effects on a young person’s life. Such materials are designed to “speak” to kids in a way that they can really understand and relate to and they are often far superior to any “lecture” or education delivered by parents. Leaving these kinds of materials in the bathroom and around the house without comment is probably the best approach. Alternatively, read them to children (ages 9 – 12) along with other bedtime material. For teens, just leave the books out and perhaps discuss the material with them at the dinner table. Open communication helps. Also, maintaining a positive, healthy relationship with teens is protective to a certain extent.

If parents want to protect their children from substance abuse disorders, it’s important that they are present and alert as early as the “use” stage. Regulated drugs like pain killers must be carefully watched and monitored, so that they will not get abused. More importantly, children should be made aware than in case of many illegal drugs, there is no such thing as “just experimenting.” Because illegal drugs are addictive by nature, just one try may be enough to get a person hooked. This is especially true for children and teenagers who have a family history of substance dependency.

Once substance use has already progressed to substance dependency, a purely psychological intervention may not be enough to get a user to stop. Because the body’s chemistry is already altered by repeated abuse of medication, detoxification at a rehabilitation facility may be needed before any psychological intervention can be carried out.  If this is the case, it’s best to consult a physician and/or a mental health practitioner specializing in substance abuse disorders.