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How to get your child to break bad habits

badhabitsWe speak to four concerned mums about their children’s ongoing problems, from bed-wetting to clinginess, and hear the advice they were given by experts in the know…

Thumb sucking
Jo Barden, 47, mum to Holly, 14, Annie, 11, and Phoebe, 10, from Beckenham, Kent, wants Annie to stop sucking her thumb.

‘I felt quite smug as Annie was a very contented baby as she could always comfort herself with her thumb. But as she grew older, I found her speech was slightly delayed – we were even referred for hearing tests when she was three because she spoke so few words. Luckily, the tests proved negative and Annie soon began to speak whole sentences – but I still nagged her about her thumb. She sucked it less as she got older, but whenever she was tired, or feeling a bit unsure, the thumb would
go in and her teacher even mentioned it.

‘Then, when Annie was seven years old, our dentist warned us her teeth were starting to grow slightly goofy. The dentist urged us to try to persuade her to give up – but the thumb-sucking habit was by now so ingrained she couldn’t stop. Now that Annie’s about to start secondary school I desperately want her to give up the habit.’

Expert view: Dr Uchenna Okoye, clinical director of the London Smiling Dental Group ( says: ‘Children really should be urged to give up thumb sucking as early as possible – between seven and nine, if possible. Sucking on the thumb will damage your child’s teeth because it acts like a brace, creating a
force that will pull the teeth in to a “goofy” or protruding shape.

‘To break the habit, I recommend coating your child’s thumb nail in a bitter-tasting product such as Stop’n Grow, £4.25, from or Mavala Stop (Nail Biting Treatment), £4.03, from Boots. You could also try covering it with a plaster, bandages and a glove. That way, if your child tries to suck her thumb at night, she won’t get any comfort from it and will gradually grow out of it.’

Mum’s feedback: ‘We’re trying Uchenna’s tips and Annie is keen to solve the problem. The nail product and a bandage is helping at night – I don’t think it will be long before we’ve cracked it.’

Lorraine Tighe, 38, mum to Lauren, 11, and Alexia, seven, from south London is concerned that Alexia still has a dummy.

‘I really wish I’d never given Lexi a dummy – but it’s easy to be wise after the event. My mum looked after Lexi when she was tiny, as  I was working full-time and it didn’t seem  fair to expect mum to wean her off it. When I saw Lexi in the evenings I didn’t want to upset her and just went with the flow as I’m fairly laid-back and assumed she would just give it up in her own time.

‘Then, when she was three years old, Lexi contracted meningitis and she nearly died. After that, we just felt lucky to have her and didn’t want to do anything that would rock the boat. Lexi’s health was fragile for about a year or so, as her immune system had been compromised, so before we knew it, she was four years of age and starting school, but still using a dummy.

‘We tried saying all her dummies had been lost, but she screamed constantly. Then, we managed to get her down to one dummy, but we lived in fear of it going missing. Lexi only has her dummy on long car journeys, or in bed at night – but I’m embarrassed she  still has it and worried it is going to affect her teeth.’

Expert view: Jo Frost says: ‘Tell Lexi the Dummy Fairy is coming to collect her old dummies tomorrow to give to babies.  Put them in a bag on her bedroom door and remove the dummies overnight but fill the bag with goodies and a note from the Dummy Fairy thanking Lexi for giving them up. It’s a simple idea, but it should work.’

Mum’s feedback: ‘We took away the dummies and replaced them the next morning with a bag of books and toys, and Lexi was made up. She seems to accept the dummies have gone forever. Fingers crossed it lasts!’

Sarah Jenkins, mum to Cara, 15, Ruby 13 and Ellie, eight, from West Sussex, says Ellie is still clingy three years after starting school.

‘Ellie is eight now, but she’s still really clingy and funny about going to other children’s houses for tea after school. There are only one or two girls she’s happy to go home with, but she’d still rather come home to me every night. She attends after-school clubs, too, so is tired by the end of the school week.

‘During the school holidays she never asks if she can have friends round to play – she’s happy to be with her sisters and with us. It’s strange because neither of her two elder sisters were like this atall. I thought with her being the third child she’d be even more socially confident than they were, but she’s not.

‘I’m worried that if we refuse any more invitations she won’t get asked and will be outside the loop socially – what can I do to persuade her it’s a good idea to socialise with her classmates more?’

Expert view: Jo Frost says: ‘Ellie’s probably just overtired after school and would prefer to come home to be with you. Try inviting friends to you instead and making visits short and limit them to once a week. If she’s too tired after school, try a Saturday afternoon or a day in the holidays. Suggest meeting up with another child and her mum at a park or the swimming pool – she can still socialise, but has the security of knowing you are there in the background. When Ellie goes to other families after school, pick her up by 6pm so she doesn’t get too tired.’

Mum’s feedback: ‘I’ve cut one of Ellie’s clubs and restricted tea dates to one and that seems to have taken the pressure off. She seems happier to have friends over now and has already been to someone’s house for tea with no fuss.’

Anne Jessop, 53, mum to Matthew, 10, from London, turned to hypnotherapy to cure his bed-wetting episodes.

‘Matthew has been wetting the bed ever since he stopped wearing nappies at night. I’ve always tried not to get too stressed out about it and just bunged the sheets in the washing machine every day and assumed he’d eventually grow out of it.

‘When he started school, though, I was worried about the stigma and how he’d cope with going for sleepovers and school residential trips, so I took him to our GP who referred us to an enuresis clinic which specialises in treating children and teenagers with continence problems. The clinic staff weren’t too worried at first – they reassured us that there are 500,000 under-16s in the UK who regularly wet the bed and the majority of children outgrow it.

‘They asked us to keep a chart of how much Matthew drank and advised us to give him plenty to drink during the day, but to restrict fluids after 6pm. This did improve his symptoms – he did have some dry nights – but he still has some accidents. He’s 10 now and desperately wants to stop this happening.’

Expert view: Clinical hypnotherapist, Lynda Hudson, says: ‘Most children who suffer bed-wetting are referred to an enuresis clinic and offered help and advice to tackle the problem with strategies such as using bed-wetting alarms, which emit a noise if the child starts to leak urine (such as the Astric Dry-Bed Alarm, £99, from, and/or a drug called Desmopressin to stimulate a hormone which suppresses urine production at night. A good source of information about bed-wetting is the charity ERIC, visit or call 0845 370 8008.

‘My bed-wetting CDs, I’m Dry At Night (aimed at five to nine-year-olds) and Control Your Bladder (aimed at 10-16 year-olds), both £12.95, available from can also be helpful. They help reprogramme a child’s subconscious mind to take control of the bladder during sleep and for the child to wake if he needs to use the toilet. The feedback I get is that they are very successful.’

Mum’s feedback: ‘Matthew tried listening to the CD every evening and within a week he was completely dry at night and has stayed that way ever since. He did have one lapse several months ago, but after he listened to the CD he was dry again. It’s really helped to improve his confidence and self-esteem.’

This article was first published in at home’s ’Parenting with Jo Frost’ July 2011. [Read the digital edition here]

 Images: Getty, Shutterstock

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