Social Question

Seek's avatar

Breaking a toddler's bad habits?

Asked by Seek (34779points) August 24th, 2010

My son is two.

He doesn’t suck his thumb, or hit his friends, or use a pacifier…

He pinches his nipple. Yes, the one on his chest. Just one of them, but he does it constantly. He walks around with his hand down his shirt, just going to town on himself.

When he was little, it was adorable, and I was just happy he wasn’t a thumb-sucker or nose-picker. Now, that one nipple is starting to look funny, and it would be great if we could break that habit.

Unfortunately, unlike thumb-sucking, there isn’t a whole lot of information on neat ways to keep your kid from being a perpetual titty-twister.


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12 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

He is craving stimulation and may have made a connection that if he does that you will notice and that gets him the attention he craves. The only thing I can suggest is to praise him up and down when you see he is not doing that. Maybe he will connect that not doing it will get him what he really wants and that is your loving attention.

marinelife's avatar

Could you put something in his hand with which he pinches the nipple: a ball he can squeeze?

Also, can you point out to him that other people do not do that, and it is not OK to do it in public?

Then I think peer pressure when he goes to school will take care of the rest.

MissAusten's avatar

Honestly, I’d ignore it and just wait for the phase to pass. Unless you can figure out some way to prevent him from being able to stick his hand down his shirt, there’s not much you can do. Maybe with the onset of fall and winter, you can dress him in turtleneck shirts with a onesie underneath and hope it becomes too difficult or uncomfortable for him to get his hand where he wants it.

You can try reminding him to take his hand out of his shirt when you’re out in public, but the attention span of a toddler makes it difficult for him to remember, and most likely you’ll just drive yourself crazy with the repetition. I read somewhere that kids will not stop things like you describe (or picking their noses, for example) until they are old enough to be aware of the social stigma from their peers. As strange as it may look, he probably isn’t going to cause himself lasting damage and punishing him for something that isn’t really “wrong” or “bad” isn’t a course of action I’d suggest.

When my youngest was little, and up until he was two or so, he like to shove his hand down his pants. He mainly did it when he was tired or sleeping, but eventually he stopped. Because it wasn’t a sanitary habit, if I saw him at it during the day I’d take him into the bathroom to “wash the potty germs” off of his hands. It didn’t take long for him to only put his hands down his pants when he was very sleepy. At night, I’d dress him in one-piece footed pjs or put a onesie on him so he couldn’t get his hands into his diaper. Either because he couldn’t do it or just outgrew it, he eventually stopped.

Seek's avatar


It’s so funny – he’s obsessed with Matchbox cars, and pretty much always has at least one in his hand. I see him all the time driving cars over his chest.

My husband and I haven’t made a big deal of it, certainly not to him (that whole what gets attention sticks thing), but oi vey… It’s starting to look like he’s breastfeeding. ^_^

gypsywench's avatar

My nephew, when he was 3ish going on 4, would put his hands down his pants, and his parents would tell me not to say anything. I think it was because they didn’t want to draw attention to it. Anyways, I noticed it wasn’t stopping so I just simply told him: “Get your hands out of your pants! You don’t see adult’s doing that? When you grow up if you’re busy with your hands in your pants, how are you supposed to do normal things like drive a car? You’ll have to drive with your butt!” and he laughed and laughed and stopped doing it, cause I made it funny, not weird. he doesn’t do that anymore.

Frenchfry's avatar

I like the onsie idea or buy him little longer shirt and tuck them in. If it is bruising himself or anything making it red. I too think he does it for attention now maybe not ,when he first started but maybe now he does gets your attention. If you ignore him it might help and he will grow out of it.

jfos's avatar

A lot of times children will forget about something if you take it from them, even if it seems like they are going to complain/cry about it forever. I’d suggest taking the aforementioned nipple from him for a day or two. If he doesn’t mention it, wait a week. If he still hasn’t mentioned it, sneakily put it back while he’s sleeping. Hopefully, he will have grown out of the habit of playing with it, and your worries will be gone.

Seek's avatar


Oh, gods. You’re killing me. Ha ha ha!

Battousai87's avatar

I would have to agree with some of the other sentiments here. Yeah it’s a bit odd, but he’s really not hurting anything or anyone. I would say ignor it as best you can and then that may solve itself. Then add in that you remind him that it isn’t something to be doing in public when u are in public and he starts to do it. The reminders in public should help him to develop some of those realizations that it isn’t socially acceptable then it may help him to stop. Don’t yell at him, but simply remind him and if he doesn’t stop then take his hand out of his shirt when he’s in public. That way he won’t feel punished.

another suggestion could be to basically put a mitten on him when ur home, like my parents did to me when i had chicken pocks to keep me from scratching, but i would only suggest that if it really persisted.

also once he starts becoming more social, his peers will attend to the rest, but if you can break the habit by the reminders in public method then he’ll be better off.

Aster's avatar

If its not going to cause an infection you can ignore it (very hard to do) or put a bandaid on it and say “this is for your boo boo.” Then put a small, round bandaid on each arm.
Make a reward calendar. Hang it up. At the end of each day that he doesn’t do it put a gold foil star on that day/box. Then clap your hands!

Zyx's avatar

slap him around a bit?

You should keep telling him and start with some mild punishment, then when it inspires the desired effect reward him with something he’ll remember. It should actually be pretty easy if he’s still young. The later in life the more traumatic an experience needs to be to actually change because of it.

skfinkel's avatar

Your question itself troubled me a bit. A child of two is kind of early for “bad habits.” You told us how he got this “habit”—you thought it was “adorable.” So he got lots of positive reinforcement for it. Now you have changed your mind. But he can’t know that this is no longer adorable, and it probably feels comforting in some way to him.

If you ignore the behavior, spend some time playing with him with toys, where he is required to use his two hands, give him lots of love and just look away when he does his twisting, it will go away. Just remember, you taught him to do this by reinforcing it. It is not bad, and it will not hurt him. It is just embarrassing to you. But don’t punish him for it. It will become a power play item, and when kids see that they do something that irks you, it can become more than what it was originally. This is his body—and you only have so much control over it. You will find this out when he begins to get toilet trained, and he is really in control. The thing is, when you think about the kind of child you want, you want a strong and independent child who has a good sense of himself, so you don’t want to undermine him, belittle him, punish him for things that are really not “bad.”

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