Over and Over Again

When a child or teen repeats actions for no obvious reason, there is often a reason! In fact, there are many reasons why young people might repeat movements or actions. Let’s look at the more common ones.

  • Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PPD): Some mental health disorders like autism, Asperger’s Disorder and PPDNOS (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified) may have repetitive behaviors as part of their symptom picture. For instance, there may be rocking or rhythmic movements, hand flapping or twirling. Such behaviors in and of themselves do not indicate the presence of a pervasive developmental disorder – many other symptoms must be present for a diagnosis to be made. Behavioral Therapy may help reduce these kinds of repetitive behaviors.
  • Simple Nervous Habits. Some children kick their legs back and forth when seated or rock back and forth, or twirl their hair or even crack their knuckles.  This sort of repetitive behavior may just be a discharge of “nervous energy.” Unless these behaviors interfere with functioning or cause distress, there is no need to treat them. However, some people find that giving their children Bach Flower Remedies (try “Agrimony”) may help reduce nervous habits. Consult a Bach Flower Practitioner for an individually designed remedy most appropriate for your child’s needs.
  • Tourettes Syndrome. Tic disorders are, by definition, repetitive behaviors. SImple Tic Disorders such as Transient Tic Disorder (common in 7 – 9 year old children) may consist of one repetitive behavior such as blinking or twitching a shoulder or clearing the throat. In simple Tic disorders, the particular behavior may change from time to time, or, there may be more than one movement or sound involved. These sorts of tics usually disappear on their own within a year or so, although in some children they can last years or right into adulthood. In Tourette’s Syndrome, the child has BOTH repetitive movement and repetitive vocalization occuring, and there can be more than one of each kind. Bach Flower Remedies have helped people with Tic Disorders. There are also medications that your doctor can presecribe. In addition, there are behavioral therapies that can help bring tics under control.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)When a child feels compelled to repeat certain behaviors and very anxious if he is prevented from doing so, he may be suffering from OCD. OCD is an anxiety disorder that consists of worries (obsessions) and rituals (repeated behaviors). Sometimes the child is aware of the worry (i.e. he is afraid that someone in his family will become sick) and sometimes he just feels anxious without knowing why. In either case, he discovers a series of repetitive actions that makes him feel temporarily calmer. For instance, he may count numbers in his head, or take a certain number of steps forward and backward, or wash his hands a certain number of times or write and rewrite and rewrite his schoolwork. There are many variations of repetitive behaviors that those who have OCD may perform. If the child’s behavior interferes with his functioning at home or school or if he is very distressed by having to do them, it is highly possible that OCD is the culprit. However, only a professional child psychologist or psychiatrist can make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe an appropriate treatment plan (usually consisting of cognitive behavioral therapy -CBT and sometimes, medication as well).
  • Physical Disorders and Medications. Occasionally repetitive behaviors can be symptomatic of a medical condition or a reaction to medication. Your pediatrician or GP can do an assessment for you.

Habits

What’s the difference between a bad habit, a nervous habit and a compulsive habit? When should a parent be concerned about a child’s habit?

Bad Habits
Everyone has bad habits. Leaving one’s dish on the table is a bad habit – one that many kids (and adults!) have. Calling a sibling “stupid” or some other insulting name can be a bad habit. Slamming the car door too hard can also be a bad habit. A bad habit is any repetitive behavior that needs improvement. That behavior can be a small, annoying behavior or it can be a more serious problematic behavior. For instance, a teen might have a bad habit of calling home past midnight to say that he’ll be out later than expected, or, he might have a really bad habit of forgetting to call home at all and just showing up at 3 in the morning.

Parents can help their children overcome bad habits by using normal parenting techniques like teaching, rewarding and disciplining. If the child’s bad habit is interfering with his health or functioning, however, then professional intervention is a good idea. For instance, a child who is chronically sleep-deprived due to going to bed too late or who is doing poorly in school due to chronically getting up too late, may benefit from counseling or other appropriate therapy.

Nervous Habits
Nervous habits are bodily behaviors that aim to discharge stress or tension. Twirling one’s hair, biting one’s nails, rocking back and forth, shaking one’s feet while seated – all these actions are examples of nervous habits. Talking rapidly, running to the bathroom urgently, gulping down food, giggling inappropriately – these, too, can be nervous habits.

If a child has a nervous habit he or she may benefit from learning better techniques for stress reduction. There are children’s classes and groups for yoga and mindfulness meditation that can be helpful. Alternative therapies can also help. For instance, herbal medicine can come the system down and Bach Flower Therapy can relieve stress and tension. Parental nagging to stop the nervous habit, on the other hand, does not help at all – if anything, it might increase the nervous habit. If the habit is bothering the child or parent, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful.

Compulsive Habits
While bad habits and nervous habits occur to some extent in almost everyone, compulsive habits occur only in those who have various mental health disorders. Eating disorders often involve compulsive activities like weighing oneself or cutting food into tiny bits. Certain kinds of psychotic disorders also have compulsive symptoms.

Compulsive habits are most characteristic of the anxiety disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This sort of habit is more ritualistic than the habits we’ve discussed so far. For instance, someone with a “nervous” habit might tap her feet while waiting in a long line. However, someone with a compulsive habit might tap her feet exactly 13 times – not because she is tense, but because she is attempting to reduce truly anxious, troubling feelings. Tapping exactly 13 times – not one less or one more -is a compulsion. A compulsion is a specific action whose purpose is to calm the anxiety associated with troubling obsessions (thoughts or sensations). There are many, many types of compulsive habits. Washing one’s hands a certain number of times is a common compulsive habit that often results in red, chapped, even bleeding skin. Counting steps, saying certain words or numbers, checking things repeatedly, praying in a specified way not characteristic for others who practice the same religion – all of these can be compulsive habits. The child who engages in these or other compulsive habits is a slave to the habit – he or she MUST perform the action or else suffers overwhelming anxiety.

Compulsive habits do not tend to go away by themselves. Instead, they get worse and worse over time and spread into more and more styles of compulsive habits. The sooner a child receives professional treatment for compulsive habits, the sooner the child will be able to lead a normal, healthy, compulsion-free life. If you think that your child’s habits may be compulsive in nature, arrange for an assessment with a mental health professional (psychologist or psychiatrist). Treatment can help!

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.

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.

Unprotected Sex

Today’s world is highly sexualized. Children are no longer sheltered from “adult” material and in fact, are encouraged to express their own sexuality at younger and younger ages. These days, it is hard to find a primetime TV show that doesn’t have a sexually explicit scene — and many of these shows are explicity marketed to teenagers and young adults. Contraceptives are sold in the nearby convenience store, right alongside soap and shampoo. And many teen celebrities — some barely out of puberty —sport a sexy image; some even find themselves as tabloid fodder because of irresponsible real-life sexual behavior.

Given that sex seems to be in the very air we breathe, it’s important that parents take an active role in promoting responsible sexual behavior in children. The cost of poor choices when it comes to sexuality can be very high, from sexually transmitted diseases or STDs to unwanted pregnancies, to early, often inappropriate, marriages. There’s also the psychological cost of premature sexuality: kids having unwanted sex due to peer pressure or partner pressure, finding out the hard way that love and respect doesn’t always accompany the sexual act, regretting being intimate with the wrong person and experiencing deeper levels of hurt and/or betrayal when intimate relationships are disrupted.

What can parents do to encourage responsible sexual behavior in their children? Consider the following:

Communicate Your Values Early
Different parents have different definitions of what “responsible sex” means. Some families do not believe in sex before marriage, for practical or religious reasons. Other parents are more liberal; they allow sexual behavior before marriage, as long as a child is at the right age and safe sex practices are being followed. Whatever your family’s belief system is, it’s best that you share it with your child, especially if they are already in the teenage years. The public library also offers an array of books for young people that cover all aspects of teen sexuality and romance – you can bring them home for your kids to read and you can also use them as a starting point for discussions about the topic.

Explain the Risks
Not all teenagers are aware of the risks involved in irresponsible sexual behavior. Or some kids are aware but they do not take the threats seriously. As parents, it’s your job to educate your child about the serious negative consequences that come with irresponsible sex, particularly unprotected sex. Unprotected sex refers to sexual intercourse without any intervention designed to prevent unwanted pregnancy and/or sexually-transmitted diseases. Two common methods of protection are common: condoms and birth control pills.

Parents must make sure kids know facts from fiction. For example, there’s a myth that goes “if you only do it once, you will not get pregnant.” This simply isn’t true. While having sex only once does lessen the risk of a pregnancy, it doesn’t eliminate it. Similarly, a child can contract a life-long sexually transmitted disease from having intercourse only one time.

Kids Must be Educated about the Limits of Their “Protection” of Choice
Condoms, for example doesn’t protect against HIV virus passed from the saliva or sperm of an infected person to an open wound in the mouth. HIV-AIDS remain without a cure until today, and causes much pain to the person who has it. Birth control pills (if used properly!) only protect against unwanted pregnancy, they don’t protect against most sexually-transmitted diseases. They also have known side effects. The emergency contraceptive or the morning after pill doesn’t 100% eliminate the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex, it merely lessens it.

Kids should see a medical doctor for examination and preparation for responsible sexuality. The doctor can explain how to reduce or prevent disease and pregnancy and the youngster who wants to act like an adult in the bedroom can take the adult steps of preventative care.

Tell Them That There’s Nothing Wrong with Waiting
The best protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases remains one thing: abstinence. Tell your children that there is nothing wrong with waiting to become sexually active until they are ready. They need not give in to peer or partner pressure; they always have a right to say “no.” Friends may chide you for being a virgin, but sexual activeness is not a race — you don’t lose points for starting late. Waiting does not necessarily mean until marriage. It can mean waiting for a serious committed relationship or waiting until one is closer to the age of marriage – simply to reduce the number of sexual partners one will have and thereby reduce the risk of sexual disease.

Work at Your Marriage
Research has consistently shown that the best way to teach a child about responsible sexual behavior is to for parents to model what a respectful and loving relationship is like. If kids know the standard that they should aspire to, and how beautiful this standard is, they are less likely to settle for less than what they deserve.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is typically thought of as something that happens between a boss and an employee, or committed by a drunk in the bar. But recent reports have shown that sexual harassment in schools is on the rise. A national survey of American public schools report that as much as 80% of female students and 60% of male students have experienced sexual harassment while in school! Worse, most of the time these harassments occur right out in the open, in full view and/or hearing of other people.

What is Sexual Harassment?
Put simply, sexual harassment is any unsolicited and unwanted sexual advance or attack against one’s gender and sexuality. Behaviors considered as sexual harassment exist in a range, from making sexual jokes or comments, to giving looks that may be construed as lewd or suggestive, to inappropriate touches and forcing someone to engage in sexual behavior.

Sexual harassment can happen face-to-face or indirectly. Abuses within internet chatrooms, spreading nasty rumors, and vandalisms that contain explicit sexual content targeted to a particular person are all considered indirect ways of sexual harassment. Both direct and indirect ways of sexual harassment can cause severe stress and trauma to its victim, and must be taken seriously.

What can Parents Do?
There are many things that parents can do to prevent sexual harassment from reaching their children.

Prevention is always better than any steps taken after the fact, so it’s best if parents take a proactive role in combating sexual harassment.

Parents can start by educating their kids on what sexual harassment is, and its impact to its victims. For instance, parents must take a hard stance against making inappropriate jokes and comments, even if there are those who would say “boys are just being boys” or “it’s all just good-natured teasing.” Sensitizing children on the offensive nature of sexual jokes is a good start in preventing sexual harassment from spreading. Similarly, children must always be taught to respect people’s sexuality. Calling someone a “faggot” or a “dyke,”  a “whore” or other insulting sexual names is not to be tolerated under any circumstance. By teaching kids not to hurt others in this way, parents help put an end to the cycle of victimization.

However, parents also have to teach their children how to respond to sexual harassment in the case that it happens to them. This can help prevent trauma.  When a child knows what steps to take, he or she feels empowered and supported. For instance, teach your child to report harassment to the principle or guidance counselor immediately.  Kids can also be taught how to stand up to bullies of all kinds, including those who bully through sexual harassment. Bully-proofing can be brought into schools as a program for the student body – speak to the guidance department about arranging this. Kids should also be taught how not to invite abuse and harassment through their own behaviors. For instance, if a girl dresses very provocatively instead of more modestly, she is communicating that she wants to be noticed sexually. Although she is not responsible for being victimized by harassment, she is certainly responsible for inviting sexual attention. Teach your kids how the opposite gender reacts to cues (i.e. how boys are stimulated by revealing clothing and so on).

Parents can ask their local librarian for help in selecting age-appropriate materials on this subject to bring home for their kids. When children learn from books it can be extra powerful – it means that the information they are receiving is not just Mom or Dad’s nervous over-reactions.

Sometimes parents can take the advocacy to the school and the community. Many school administrators, teachers and community members are unaware of how prevalent the problem is, and thus they are not as vigilant in identifying and reporting sexual harassment cases. A culture of silence and impunity may exist in a school, so it’s best to launch information campaigns designed to remove the stigma associated with being victimized. Establishing clear channels for reporting harassment and systems of response and referral are also ideal.

Lastly, it’s important that parents make their kids aware of what their rights are. For instance, choosing not give in to peer pressure to harass others is a right and a responsibility. Similarly, one always has a right to say “no” to any unwanted communication or sexual advance. And if they are victimized, or know someone who has been, it’s their right to report the harassment to the proper authorities.

Takes Siblings Belongings

“Mom! Laurie stole my hairbrush!”

“I did not!”

“You did too! Who else would take it?”

“I just borrowed for a minute. Why are you so selfish?”

When it comes to personal property, boundaries between siblings can be hard to define. After all, in a family there is such a thing as communal property: what is mine is also yours. And sharing is a virtue all parents want to encourage in their children.

But no matter how close siblings are, respect of individuality (and hence, personal property) is important. Children must be allowed to set limitations that they are comfortable with — it’s part of their journey to selfhood.

So how are parents to handle situation of “stealing” between siblings? Consider the following tips:

Explain the Importance of Ownership
Many kids are simply unaware that siblings can feel proprietorial about their personal belonging. For instance, kids might wonder: “What’s the big deal about lending a CD anyway?” It’s important  for parents to explain that an object need not be valuable materially for it to be precious to a person. It may have a sentimental value to its owner, or the owner simply wants their possessions placed exactly where they left it. When kids understand how important property is to people, they can be more respectful of their sibling’s things.

Teach Skills in Being a Good Borrower
If a child really wants something from their sibling, the best thing they can do is ask for it! Teach your child good borrowing skills such as asking permission to borrow in a pleasant way, taking good care of borrowed property, not lending borrowed property without the owner’s permission and returning borrowed property promptly as promised. If a person has proven to be a good borrower, they’re easy to trust. Trustworthy borrowers get to borrow more often.

Clarify That a “No” is a “No.”
It is important for parents teach their children that taking property without permission is called stealing. Parents can convey the following information to their kids: “If you borrow something, and your sibling says “no,” you cannot just go and help yourself to it anyway. Perhaps the object just can’t be lent or given away and in any event, it’s the owner’s right to say no. The borrower simply has to accept the owner’s decision. If this is the case, then find other, more acceptable ways of getting what you want. Perhaps you can save money to buy what you need, or maybe you can borrow it from someone else. You may also just be creative and find ways to make do with what you don’t have. Stealing is a serious offense that violates people’s rights and it is simply not an option.”

Model Respect of Property
If you want to teach your children to respect their sibling’s property, you have to respect their property too. It’s not easy to think of young children as having property (since you bought them everything they have!) but many things are their personal belongings that might have personal value to them. So don’t just take (or worse, throw!) their things without permission, or re-arrange their belongings even if you are in the process of cleaning their rooms. Doing so may convey to kids that private property is not really important. Put questionable items in a pile and ask the kids about them, involving them in the sorting and discarding process.  When kids feel that respect of property is a family value, they are more likely to follow suit.

Use Discipline When Necessary
If a child repeatedly takes things without permission, use your normal process of discipline (i.e. the 2X-Rule, as explained in detail in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). When you decide to use this rule, you always start with Step One, even though you’ve already told your child many times that he must not take property without permission. Wait until the child takes something one more time and then apply Step One. It might sound like this, “You are not allowed to take someone’s property without their permission because everyone has the right to decide whether or not to share their private belongings. If you don’t have permission, do not touch what doesn’t belong to you.” Wait until a child takes something again, and then apply Step Two. Step Two involves saying the exact same thing you said at step one and adding a warning that future stealing will result in a punishment (name the exact punishment you have in mind, taking care to make it severe enough that it will motivate the child to refrain from stealing in the future). If the child ever steals again, apply the punishment.

Consider a Cry for Attention
Is stealing from siblings a recurring behavior that persists despite your interventions? Then perhaps it’s time to consider a cry for help. Your child can be stealing to get negative attention; he may be feeling insecure and has resorted to misbehaving to get help. Or he may be suffering from a condition called kleptomania – a compulsive desire to steal in order to relieve anxiety. The best help will come from a child psychologist or another mental health professional.