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7 Bad Habits

Sucking their thumb, pulling their hair, picking their nose  -- nearly all children find ways to relieve anxiety, boredom, or fatigue. There are many reasons that kids develop these coping mechanisms: Some imitate adults; others discover something pleasurable or relaxing and then repeat it until it becomes a way to help ease tension.

Even well-meaning parents can get so annoyed at what they perceive to be a "bad" habit that they start to scold or punish their child in a misguided attempt to rid him of it. But focusing excessive attention on his behavior can backfire, and may only make your child more stubborn. Even worse, nagging or teasing can leave him feeling discouraged and miserable.

The good news is that childhood habits are usually harmless and tend to disappear, especially if you refrain from dwelling on them. Instead of criticizing your child, try to pinpoint possible sources of stress or tension at home or school and provide a secure, relaxed environment for him. Offer additional comforting and cuddling, and pay more attention to his positive qualities. If he wants help breaking the habit, ask him if he'd like you to give him gentle reminders.

Here are seven common habits of childhood, with some strategies to adopt while you're waiting for your little one to leave them behind.

Contributing editor Marianne Neifert, M.D., is a pediatrician affiliated with HealthONE and Rose Medical Center, in Denver.