How to Help Break Your Child’s Bad Habit

The answer is simpler and more powerful than you think

When you just want them to stop…

It’s tough as a parent to watch your child repeat a bad habit. You want the best for them and they’d do best to leave those bad habits behind.

Here’s the surprise: bad habit patterns may actually be generational! Instead of asking, reminding, or bribing your child to stop, you can do something far more powerful. In this episode, Carol and Anne show how, with examples.

This episode’s Parenting Practice

Consider whether or not your child is feeling shamed about their bad habit. Using the tips in this episode, enroll them in a loving way to change this habit, having the conversation when the habit is not happening. Observe any ways you also do a version of this habit. Is it generational?

Transcript of podcast episode

Anne: Hi, my name’s Anne, and I come from a family of pickers.

Carol: Welcome to The Child Whisperer Podcast. I’m your host, Carol Tuttle, author of the bestselling parenting book, The Child Whisperer. I’m with my co-host, Anne Tuttle Brown.

Anne: “My 4-year-old Type 3 son chews on his fingernails and my 6-year-old Type 1 daughter puts her fingers in her mouth or chews on her hair. How can I help them move forward and leave these bad habits behind? Their father was a nail-biter as a child, and I messed with my hair and put it in my mouth as a child, too.”

Carol: How to break a child’s bad habit. I think it’s interesting that in this parent’s question, she actually identified something that I think is really important to see when it comes to these tendencies with physical habits like nail biting, hair pulling, putting hair in mouth, is it’s generational. There is a generational tendency that is passed down in the family system. We see it in mine.

Anne: Yeah. Hi, my name’s Anne, and I come from a family of pickers.

Carol: That’s right. I picked my nails and bit my nails. My brother does, my father did. I don’t know about my grandparents. Beyond that, there is a generational bigger picture tendency that is… Why you wanna understand what that is, don’t just target your child, say, “Wow, this pattern’s going on to the next generation here.”

Anne: What’s triggering that?

Carol: Well, partly because it’s…when you notice when they do it, when are they doing this? Are they tired, are they stressed, are they anxious? I would do it when I was anxious. Feeling anxiety, it was a way that I would express that energy by picking at things, and that anxiety isn’t being dealt with. You know, my mom, it would have been really supportive if my mother had noticed I was picking little sores on my face, picking my nails. This goes back to when I was, you know, 3, 4 years old that this started. If she had tuned into what’s causing this stress. My mother wasn’t proactive that way, she just corrected it a lot. She tried to correct it.

Anne: Stop picking or she… Would she slap your hands or would she…?

Carol: Yeah, she moved my hand down. Like she actually…and in public places, too. She did this to me when I was like 45.

Anne: Did you slap her?

Carol: I’m like… No. [inaudible 00:02:35]. Type 3. You’re like, “Oh yeah? You wanna see someone pick?” It’s very shaming. What I was able to recognize when it was happening in my adult years was how much shame I felt.

Anne: Yeah, it happens when you’re 43, you go right back to when you were 3.

Carol: How bad it felt, which makes you wanna just pick more because you’re feeling so shameful about it. And so correcting it is…it’s difficult to correct that kind of tendency without it feeling shameful to a child. So what’s a better way because you were a picker as well, and then Katie, see? We’re talking about four generations here now that we’ve identified this pattern.

Anne: Was your mom a picker?

Carol: She picked her foot. I mean, she’d lay in her bed at night, and she had all these dry skin on her heel, yeah, and she’d pick at that. It was like a nightly ritual.

Anne: Interesting.

Carol: Come to think of it, got it on both sides, you know. So when Katie…let’s approach this from Katie’s experience.

Anne: Okay, so she started…she would get little sores on her face, either from just like a bump or she would…a small scratch, and then it would…

Carol: Couldn’t leave it alone.

Anne: She would make it bigger, and she would often pick at it while she was falling asleep because I think as a Type 3, she just wanted something to do with her hands.

Carol: That when I did it as a child. My mother actually taped gloves on my hands when I was like 4-years-old so I wouldn’t pick at night. So I saw this and I’m like, “Oh man.”

Anne: And I know…at that age, I tried to explain to her like cause and effect, like this is just gonna make it worse, but that wasn’t enough to keep her from, like, the picking. I think it was mindless. I don’t know if it was like an expression of anxiety for her, it was more just like keeping her hands moving.

Carol: Well, I saw it as a generational pattern that hadn’t…

Anne: Yes, exactly.

Carol: …cleared enough that she was being basically a by-product of. That’s when I mentioned to you, “We should clear this. We should do a proxy clearing for her.” We worked with the energy first, rather than focusing on just Katie. So you and I, I took you through a clearing process, where it was focused on this pattern and tendency of picking that’s been in our family system. I teach this kind of resource and I support people with this kind of work at It’s a new offering I have in the world that allows you to do healing sessions and clearing sessions online. There’s a huge, wonderful index of resources, and there could be clearing for anxiety. I teach you how to create your own clearing.

Anne: Clearing for fear and sadness, yeah.

Carol: Clearing for picking, clearing for fear, sadness, anxiety. And so, as you approach this in the bigger picture scheme of things, that we’re gonna open this energy because this is energy’s driving the behavior, and it will shift. And then you could start to work with a more targeted approach in helping them stop and change the behavior because there’s more open energy to do it.

Anne: So that was the first step that we did together as a parent, and then with Katie at that, you know, you came up with a really great statement, “My fingers and hands are for creating, not for picking.” And so I would say that with her and roll her in, like choosing into that when she would start to pick. Remember, and I would say, “What wonderful things can your hands create?” And we’d kind of talk about that rather than just the correction of the stopping. And then I would also use preventive measures. I would put a Band-Aid on her face, so she couldn’t access the sore, put Neosporin on it and I continue to teach her why we wanna do this. And also, do you wanna wear a Band-Aid to school? Let’s try and stop so it doesn’t get worse and so… And I think she’s kind of just grown out of it a little bit as well, and she’s gotten a little older, but definitely, at that age 3 and 4, it was consistently she had a little sore on your face, and she was… And I am a picker. I pick my face and I really try and not do it especially when my kids are around because I don’t want them to see me doing that.

Carol: I’m no longer… I am a recovered picker.

Anne: Congratulations.

Carol: One thing I did that stopped it from my… It was just such a lifelong habit to pick at my nails. I wear acyclic nails and I don’t pick.

Anne: Yeah, you used a preventative measure. You don’t have to…

Carol: Yeah, I don’t have any temptation to pick at all, and I no longer… I’ve told you for years, don’t lean into the mirror. Don’t get close. So when you get close, start putting away in it.

Anne: When you go to a hotel, put a towel over that magnifying mirror.

Carol: That magnifying mirror.

Anne: Or even look at it.

Carol: Yeah, but I think the key here is, understand this is a bigger pattern, probably been operating in your generations. We have resources to help you clear that, and then again, then enroll them in a loving and supportive way, how you want to support them in changing this narrative.

Anne: And I would say, like, we had these conversations outside of that immediate picking moment. Like, you know it’s an issue. Talk about it when it’s not happening, so it’s not just moving their hands.

Carol: But she wasn’t around.

Anne: Yeah, but then when we brought her into the conversation about, “My fingers are for creating, not for picking,” it was not in that moment, the first, initial conversation, because if you’re just trying to correct that behavior and have that conversation, then it could be, you know, it could be embarrassed, put on the spot, and so have that conversation outside of this of, “Well, how would you like me to respond and support you in this?” And then the child can offer a feedback depending on what age they’re at so that you have a good mutual response that’s supportive for both.

Carol: I agree. So in your parenting practice this week, notice of what you’re currently doing could be shaming your child because if they’re feeling shamed, it’s actually provoking the bad habit. It’s actually creating more stress and anxiety to continue because most of these habits are driven from nervousness, stress, anxiety. But the bigger influences, the generational side of it. The second step to your parenting practice is to enroll them in a loving and supportive way to change this habit. So it feels like it’s love supporting the correction and the change, rather than shame energy. And it might take more time then. You might want to invest in it. It wasn’t an overnight success with Katie and her picking tendency. In fact, how many months did that take, your willingness to support a change?

Anne: Probably six months.

Carol: Yeah. And so you were just having to be patient with that. And notice again, where the third step is, what do you do of a like manner? Are you a healing center member? I can help you clear that picking tendency.

Anne: And I’ve had insights, actually, as to why I do it, and what provokes it, and so it’s been interesting, and I think in a short time, I will be able to say I’m a recovered picker as well.

Carol: Rather than closet picker now.

Anne: That’s right. I might have moved from an open to a closet picker.

Carol: Yeah, you’re the closet picker. You don’t want your children to see this because, you know, I’ve told them to stop, so I would like to support you in becoming a recovered picker.

Anne: Thank you.

Carol: …at The Carol Tuttle online Healing Center. Go to Your children are often are showing you really what’s never been healed in your family. There’s a pattern. It’s ongoing generation to generation, that’s why…

Anne: I’d see that as a gift and opportunity of something better…

Carol: Yeah. See this like, “Wow, they’re showing us something here. Are you gonna rather than just correct them, I wanna open up this whole energy, so it’s no longer an influence in our family system, so check out the Healing Center. We’ve given you the parenting practice. You’re doing a great job as a parent. Another opportunity in practicing support for yourself this week is to recognize how well you’re doing. Take some time and reflect on that. You’re a great parent. If you’re listening to us, you’re only becoming a better parent when you apply these practices. Are you applying the practices? They’re simple. There’s many opportunities each week. Make sure you follow through on them because you’re gonna see amazing outcomes over the time as you continue to practice.

Thanks for listening. For more support, go to, where you can purchase the book, subscribe to our weekly parenting practice email, and find a transcription and audio of The Child Whisperer Podcast.

Anne: If you’re listening on iTunes, thank you for leaving your review. If you have a parenting question, please send it to [email protected].

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