Have you ever looked at your toddler twirling their hair or sucking their thumb and wondered if you should nip the habit in the bud? When it comes to habits, It can be confusing to know what’s normal and what’s problematic. Here’s what the experts have to say.
Toddler Habits: What’s Normal and When Should You Worry?
Let’s look at some of the most common toddler behaviors that can become habitual:
Carrying Around a Stuffed Animal
Carrying a stuffed animal (or blankie or other object) everywhere – from room to room, on outings, and even to the bathroom for potty training tots – is quite common in toddlerhood. You might worry that your toddler is getting too attached to Teddy, but favorite belongings act as transitional objects at this age – providing a sense of comfort and/or safety. Transitional objects actually promote independence by helping toddlers learn to self-soothe and gain confidence: Snuggling a favorite blankie can help toddlers fall asleep on their own, for example, or using Teddy as bathroom buddy can encourage potty independence.
Thumb-sucking usually has a bad rap, but for little ones it’s one of the most natural ways to self-soothe. If they’re overwhelmed, tired or just need to relax, their thumbs are right there to use! That said, thumb-sucking that continues past toddlerhood can become an issue. The American Dental Association recommends that all thumb-sucking stops before permanent teeth begin poking through. So if your toddler has made it a habit, it’s a good idea to wean them from it before that first big-kid tooth pokes through.
Twirling or Sucking on Hair
Twirling or sucking on their own hair is another way toddlers self-soothe, especially when they’re sleepy. Twirling hair is very common and usually not a problem, as long as little ones aren’t pulling the hair out. However, sucking on hair could be an issue because toddlers may swallow some, which can get trapped in the digestive tract and lead to serious tummy troubles.
Head-Banging or Body-Rocking
Head-banging and body-rocking are, you guessed it, other ways to self-soothe! Oftentimes, both are just fine (you might notice them when your tot is falling asleep). But if these behaviors are frequent or you can’t seem to pull your child away from the action, it’s a good idea to mention it to your pediatrician. In some cases, repetitive actions may be a sign of an underlying developmental issue, such as a sensory processing delay or autism spectrum disorder.
Toddlers sucking and gnawing on their fingernails is not uncommon, and usually a way to cope with anxiety or boredom. If it’s infrequent, try ignoring the nail biting and focusing on the cause instead. For example, if you notice your little one bites their nails while driving to daycare, explore why that transition might be stressful for them.
However, if nail-biting becomes frequent, it can cause redness, bleeding and pain, and may even cause infection on the fingers or in the mouth. What’s more, it can strip away the natural enamel on their teeth or cause permanent teeth to grow in crooked.
Bringing a Pacifier Everywhere
Yet another comfort tool, pacifiers are wonderful at, yes, pacifying… but this can easily become too much of a good thing. You can read all about wise pacifier use here, and find a guide to weaning your child from a pacifier here.
Overall, these toddler habits are natural ways for little ones to feel calm and secure, and as long as they’re not too frequent children will likely grow out of them. But you know your child best, and if any habitual behavior worries you, your pediatrician can offer guidance.