Sarah Beeson talks to Tesco Living on How to kick common childhood habits

Nail biting, thumb sucking…should you be worried? Sarah gives some advice about how to support your child on Tesco Living.

Ask Sarah

Don’t worry too much about some childhood habits

“Babies sometimes develop habits like sucking a dummy or their thumb to soothe themselves,” explains Sarah Beeson, former health visitor and parenting author. “Whether they suck the label of their favourite toy, or they’ve got to have the same blankie in their hands every night when you tuck them up in bed, if it causes them no harm, and isn’t something you’re bothered about, it’s fine to leave it alone,” she says. “Don’t force your child to break a babyish habit because you think you ought to or because of remarks from relatives or friends.”


While many parents find dummies helpful to soothe newborns, it is one habit that is good to try and break before they are six months old, recommends Sarah. “Their growing attachment for it will increase and it can become harder to break,” she explains. “Dummies can affect your baby’s teeth: they often push food up into the gums, so once your baby is weaning it becomes even more important for them to give up their dummy to avoid damage.”

Sarah also recommends a positive approach: “The secret is giving your child lots of praise and encouragement. Offer cuddles, playtime and stories as an alternative to the dummy when they reach for it as a distraction. This calls for heaps of patience and perseverance, but every time you get them to accept an alternative is an achievement.” For thumb sucking, Sarah suggests gently taking your child’s thumb out of their mouth, holding their hand and playing Round And Round the Garden. “This way they are getting a positive experience in place of sucking their thumb,” she explains. “Also, you are unlikely to get the response you want from using verbal commands.”

Nail biting and positive encouragement

Nail biting tends to be more common in older children and teens, so requires a slightly different approach. “Talk to your child about what might help them stop biting their nails, and avoid methods such as bitter-tasting substances on the nails as a deterrent, as this can feel like a punishment, and take away from your child’s sense of achievement and responsibility,” Sarah says. She also stresses that if your child does not want to break the habit themselves, they are very unlikely to stop. “If your child feels nagged, then your words, no matter how well intentioned, are likely to fall on deaf ears,” she says. “Having arguments over the habit will just fan the flames.”

As with other habits, it is more helpful to give praise and encouragement when they are doing well than to reprimand or punish them when they don’t succeed. “Give them the majority of the responsibility for curing their habit,” Sarah suggests. “If they are at a loss for ideas about how to stop then you could offer some suggestions, but let your child pick one and stick to it.”

Most children grow out of these habits, either on their own or with help from a parent. The barometer should be whether you are still worried about it after trying the above suggestions. “Interventions rarely work instantly,” Sarah warns. “It’s good for your child to learn that sometimes things take time, and it’s far better to try one approach at a time than many, only to give up in frustration.”

Read the full article on Tesco Living.

About Sarah Beeson MBE

Over four decades as a nurse and a health visitor Sarah Beeson’s career has been shaped by the needs of children. Since her earliest days on the wards of Hackney Hospital she has stood up for her patients as shown in The New Arrival her heartwarming true story of training to be a nurse in 1970s London.

Her expertise and innovation have been recognised with the MBE from the Queen for services to children and families, and her health prevention work received the Queen’s Nursing Institute Award but she’s happiest listening to mums talking about their baby.

Sarah firmly believes that this generation of parents is the best there has ever been. Her new parenting book Happy Baby, Happy Family: Learning to trust yourself and enjoy your baby is the culmination of a life time’s experience watching, listening and being part of thousands of families’ journeys from birth to their Little One’s first birthday and will be published by HarperCollins in Spring 2015.

Sarah second memoir about being a newly qualified health visiting in rural Kent in 1970s She’s Arrived! will be published by HarperCollins in March 2016.

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