The best way to break your child’s bad habits

It’s Christmas today! Omicron is in the air and the weather is stinking hot here in Australia. We have no Christmas decorations up because we forgot until it was too late. Then the shops were out and we didn’t want to fight with the crowds anyway.

But none of that was on my mind today. Claire and I have been working up to today for weeks. Because today is the day Claire exchanges her precious milk bottles for some really cool presents from Santa.

Children crave comfort and security

When Tommy was born, Claire was at the delicate age of two. Unfortunately, her world turned upside down when we brought her little brother home. All of a sudden, the mat was pulled out from underneath her little person.

We went through a year of tantrums and her regressing into baby-mode. Claire had a Cuski since she was 2 months old and had always carried it around. But that wasn’t enough anymore. All of a sudden, she needed to suck on her milk bottles throughout the day and night. She wouldn’t go anywhere without it.

She felt that mommy and daddy wasn’t hers anymore. Cuski and her ‘bo-bo’ were all she had in the world. It was heart-breaking to see and we couldn’t bear to take away what little comfort she had left. Rightly or wrongly, I let her continue with this bad habit.

All habits are security blankets

Children get used to both bad and good habits very easily. They crave routine because that is how they make sense of the world.

When their world feels overwhelming, they fall back on their habits because it brings back the familiar.

Now imagine if I told Claire that she had to give up her bottles this instant because she wasn’t a baby anymore. That would fill her with terror because the milk bottle symbolized her anchor in a rocky sea.

Sadly, I actually did that about 6 months ago. I was sleep-deprived and wasn’t thinking straight. As expected, it didn’t go well and I failed miserably, traumatizing her even more.

Love and attention are like air to children

Fortunately, I have had more sleep since then. We decided she needed the security and comfort more than she needed to ‘grow up’. At the same time, Tommy was growing quickly and didn’t need as much attention anymore. We focused our energy on Claire as much as we could and made sure she knew we loved her just as much.

Nothing changed overnight. It has been a slow trudge over at least 6 months. Claire slowly came out of her ‘fight and flight’ mode. The day she started smiling again, my heart sang.

The last 2 months, Claire has returned to being a cheery little girl. Most of the time. She still had her moments but the progress she made was astounding.

It was only when she got to this stage that we tried to stop her milk bottle habit.

Lay the groundwork

We spent the weeks before christmas talking about Santa and all the cool gifts he was going to bring Claire. She knew about him from day care and she definitely knew what presents were, so it was easy.

But all these presents she was about to receive came with a price. Claire had to give all her bottles away to Santa so he could use them to make her lots of presents.

Between Adam and I, we must have repeated it almost a hundred times. Claire would look doubtfully at us but her thirst for presents would always win.

The irreversible deal

On Christmas day, we made a call to Santa and as expected, Santa requested for Claire’s milk bottles so he could make her presents.

We had already done a sweep through the house and kept all her bottles away. The only one left was the one she went to bed with.

Since we prepped her so well, Claire was sad but not surprised that she had to give her bottle to Santa. Even then, we had to bring the presents out first for her to physically give us the bottle.

Claire had a fun old time throughout Christmas morning. We had family around and she had more presents than she could count. Not once did she ask for her bottles.

But when it came time for her afternoon nap, Claire conveniently forgot that she gave her bottles away. We had to check the bottle drawer, look in the fridge, and literally walk her around the house to prove to her that there wasn’t a single bottle left.

A mini melt-down happened then. But we kept to our guns, insisting Santa can’t return her bottles because he had magically transformed them into her presents. Eventually, she agreed to sit on her bed with some of her presents. Then she layed down for comfort. And just like that, she was asleep!

Claire’s craving for her milk bottles lasted a few days and then she totally forgot about it.


3 steps to breaking your child’s bad habit

  1. Help them feel secure and loved.
  2. Prepare them for the change way beforehand.
  3. Make the change irreversible so there is no going back

To wrap up

Bad habits in adults are notoriously hard to change but kids are super adaptable. The younger your child is, the easier it is to change a bad habit.

Also check out my article on how to get your children to eat veggies and fruits.





Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *