30 dangerous habits to break now if you have kids
As parents, our jobs are to make sure that our children grow up happy, healthy, and safe. But even the most diligent of parents can fall victim to bad habits when it comes to raising kids. Read on to see if yours or your little ones’ habits are potentially causing more harm than good.
Not putting limits on screen time
Honestly, this is good advice for all of us, regardless of age. That being said, it’s especially important to be conscientious of the time little ones are spending in front of a screen. There’s nothing wrong with watching a few episodes of a favorite TV show or playing some video games to wind down, but devices shouldn’t replace babysitters or, especially, quality time with family.
Studies have shown that excessive screen time can be linked to irritability and poor behavior, eye strain, and even underdeveloped social skills. Try setting healthy limits with your kids by using timers, content filters, or by creating “tech-free” zones in the home. We all need to unplug every now and then!
Using cotton swabs inside the ear
While it may seem that cotton swabs are designed specifically for cleaning ear canals, they’re not! In fact, there’s a warning right on the box that warns against that very thing. While it’s OK to use them to clean the outer parts of your kids’ ears, sticking them inside the ear canal can actually be very dangerous.
Not only can it easily cause serious damage to the eardrums if pushed in too far, but it can also remove too much earwax. We can already hear you asking, “Isn’t removing earwax the whole point?” Doctors say that the sticky substance in your ears is supposed to be there, and helps protect your inner ear. However, if excess wax is preventing proper hearing, it’s time to see a doctor.
Using screens and devices at bedtime
It can be tempting to turn on some TV or browse social media while drifting off to sleep, and kids may even demand it, but here’s why you should put your foot down: Even the most relaxing programming emits sleep-disrupting blue light, which can mess with kids’ sleep cycles and prevent proper rest.
The reason this happens is because our bodies are tuned to an “internal clock” that is synced up with the sun’s light cycles, so that we get sleepy when it’s dark and awake when the sun rises. Young children are especially sensitive to this phenomenon, and having lights or screens on in their bedrooms can disturb their sleep cycles, which is not good! That’s not the only place one should limit screens, though.
Using screens at mealtime
Another time screens and distractions should be shelved is mealtime. Not only can a family meal be a wonderful time to reconnect with the family and talk about one another’s days, but distracted eating is also a major cause of obesity and dysfunctional eating habits.
When we eat, the signals that our bodies send to us to indicate “fullness” can be slightly delayed and sometimes easy to miss. That’s why it’s so easy to overeat if you’re not careful about listening to your body. When we’re distracted from the process of eating, those signals can be disrupted, and for kids, this is especially harmful. They’re developing lifelong eating habits, and their focus should be on their food, not a TV show.
Feeding too much fruit
We all remember being told to eat plenty of fruits and veggies if we wanted to grow up strong and healthy, but that advice is a bit oversimplified. Yes, fruits and vegetables are a part of a healthy diet, but too many fruits, especially those high in sugar, can actually be detrimental to growing kids’ health.
Even though the sugars from fruits are naturally occurring, they can still contribute to tooth decay, and an excess of any kind of sugar isn’t good for anyone’s diet. Seemingly healthy fruit juices and smoothies can also be unexpectedly sugar-dense — some varieties contain twice the recommended daily sugar intake in a single serving! We’re not saying to cut out fruits entirely; just make sure you’re keeping a close eye on what you’re serving your little ones.
Using pacifiers alone
For a parent with a fussy kid, a pacifier can be a lifesaving tool. It helps soothe crying babies and can give tired parents a few minutes of much-needed peace. As with any product for infants and young children, though, it’s important to use it correctly and know the risks involved.
One mom discovered, to her horror, that her teething baby had bitten off a piece of his pacifier while unsupervised in his crib, and may have swallowed the plastic. It could have been worse, though. Two-piece models can come apart and pose serious choking hazards. Make sure to regularly inspect pacifiers to ensure there are no tears or breaks and prevent dangerous accidents.
Putting oneself down is an unhealthy habit that many parents have, but it definitely impacts kids negatively — sometimes more than you know. Kids are extremely perceptive, and as they’re developing their sense of self and how they fit in the world, they’re looking to their parents and role models as examples.
When we talk negatively about ourselves and put excessive focus on our own shortcomings and mistakes, kids recognize and internalize those feelings. This causes them to adopt similar critical attitudes toward themselves and others, and can set the stage for serious self-esteem issues down the road.
Almost every kid (and adult, let’s be honest) has picked their nose at one time or another. Children often form the habit due to itchiness or irritation in the nasal canals, but picking can actually make things worse by irritating the already sensitive skin inside the nose, promoting infections.
Also, on top of simply being a gross habit, nose-picking can help spread disease and bacteria from inside the nose to your kids’ friends and classmates. Some kids may not even realize what they’re doing, so it’s important to remind them that nose-picking in public is frowned upon, and to emphasize the importance of regular handwashing.
Letting them win at games
We’re all guilty of pretending to do poorly at a game or sport to help young kids feel like they’re winning once in a while, but doing it all the time can do more harm than good. Firstly, kids need to learn the important lesson that failure and “losing” are normal parts of life that we all experience.
By always letting them win at home, you’re setting them up for disappointment when they ultimately face a much harsher reality. Another concern is that children are more astute than we realize at times, and will figure out when they’re being duped. This can lead to trust issues, because they recognize that you’re not being honest with them. Not good.
Skipping a healthy breakfast
They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day for a reason. Not only does breakfast fuel your growing kiddo throughout their day, but the simple act of eating in the morning is important for maintaining a healthy metabolism.
When we “break our fast” from sleeping all night, it sends our bodies signals that it’s time to wake up and go about our day by kick-starting our metabolic processes. Kids who eat breakfast have been proven to be less likely to become overweight or obese, and heading to school with a full tummy helps little students focus and perform better with their work. Just make sure you’re serving nutritious, balanced foods for breakfast instead of sugary junk.
Forgetting to brush those pearly whites
We may not be dentists, but we know how crucial good oral hygiene is to overall health and happiness. Now is the time to instill good brushing habits in your kids to ensure that their teeth are always in tip-top condition.
Help kids learn responsible brushing by using brushes with built-in timers and making tooth care as fun as possible! Have them pick out their favorite color toothbrushes and flavors of toothpaste. Reinforce healthy habits with rewards and encouragement, and they’ll soon be on their way to bright, shiny smiles. Don’t forget to get involved, and lead by example!
Forcing kids to eat their veggies
It’s no secret that kids don’t always want to eat their leafy greens at dinnertime — or any other time, for that matter. Even adults sometimes struggle with getting their proper intake of fresh vegetables on a daily basis. Some parents’ solution is simply to force their kids to finish their veggies at all costs.
The truth is, you can force your kids to choke down their vegetables, but it won’t really teach them to be adventurous eaters as adults. Young children are naturally predisposed to dislike common bitter flavors found in vegetables, and this effect is compounded when these dishes are presented as a chore, or worse, as a punishment. Instead, try to ease kids into eating healthier options by using creative cooking and presentation methods, and create positive associations with vegetables.
Making them clean their plates
How many times were you told to “clean your plate” before you could leave the dinner table as a child? How about “Eat, there are starving kids in Africa?” Aside from the problematic assumptions in that last comment, requiring kids to eat every morsel regardless of their hunger (or lack thereof) can cause some major issues.
When children are taught to ignore their bodies’ signals of hunger and fullness, it can lead to overeating, or eating when they’re not hungry, which can cause obesity and disordered eating habits. If you’re concerned about food waste, try serving smaller portions to begin with, and teach kids to take only what they need. Everyone will be happier!
Letting them sit in the ‘W’ position
Lots of young children enjoy sitting in what’s called the “W position” because it’s comfortable for them, even though it looks torturous to adults. This means that their knees are bent with their feet pointed out to the sides behind them while their bottom is on the floor.
Though it looks like some kind of yoga stretch, letting your child hold this position for long periods can be detrimental to their musculoskeletal development over time. The reason for this is because so-called “W sitting” can increase the risk of hip dysplasia and joint damage. Additionally, it takes the effort away from children’s core/trunk muscles, which can cause them to be underdeveloped.
Sending them to school with a heavy backpack
It seems like the sheer amount of stuff that kids need for school keeps increasing year after year, and their neck and back muscles are suffering for it. When kids carry around extremely heavy bags packed with books and binders all day long, it can cause muscle pain, posture problems, and even spinal misalignment!
Guidelines suggest that kids’ backpacks should be no more than 5-10% of their total body weight, so it could be beneficial to break out the scale once in a while to make sure it’s not exceeding dangerous limits. It’s also important to make sure you’re choosing a sturdy bag with cushioned straps, and that your kids are wearing it correctly — on both shoulders, and not dangling excessively low.
It’s not just kids who have this less-than-ideal habit, but it is unfortunately common among young children, and can have negative effects on their overall health and happiness. It can also, in some cases, be a sign of underlying anxiety or boredom.
Hands tend to be the dirtiest part of one’s body, since they’re constantly touching all kinds of gross surfaces. Putting them into your mouth can introduce any number of harmful bacteria into your system, and potentially give rise to (or spread) sickness. Keeping little ones’ hands busy with crafts and fidget toys can help them break this surprisingly icky habit.
Ignoring sun safety
We’ve been told for years by dermatologists how damaging the sun’s rays can be, and this is especially true for young kids’ sensitive skin. It’s super important to make sure they’re protected from UV damage when outside, and to make sure that their exposure is monitored carefully.
Studies have shown that sunburns during childhood can lead to early signs of aging, and, even worse — an increased risk of skin cancer later in life. Sun damage can be prevented by wearing hats and sunglasses while outside, and of course, by using sunscreen regularly. Don’t forget to reapply every two hours if your child has been swimming or sweating!
Consuming too many sugary drinks
Everyone knows how important it is to stay properly hydrated, but of course, kids can quickly get tired of plain water and refuse to drink it. As tempting as it may be to give them sports drinks or fruit juice to help the issue, make sure you’re reading the nutrition labels carefully.
Lots of beverages marketed toward children can be hidden sources of sugar or potentially harmful chemicals, so when selecting store-bought drinks for kids’ lunches or snack time, try to choose lower-sugar varieties with natural ingredients and no food coloring. You can also try making your own flavored water at home with fruits, berries, and herbs.
Overmedicating common colds
When kids get sick, it can often be a scary, stressful situation. They’re miserable, grumpy, and stressed, which is bound to carry over to even the most experienced caretakers. Keep calm and be aware of your actions when this happens, because it’s easy to make dangerous mistakes.
Some doctors discourage the use of over-the-counter cough and cold remedies for children under age 6, so make sure to check with your pediatrician before giving them to children to avoid harmful side effects like hypertension and convulsions. Even in older kids, it’s crucial to make sure you’re giving them proper dosages so they don’t experience similar issues.
Falling for trends
It’s so easy to get swept up in parenting “hacks” and trends that claim to make your life easier or solve annoying challenges, but just make sure you do your own thorough research before trying “the next big thing.” For example, necklaces made with amber beads have recently been touted as a miracle solution to teething pain.
The FDA investigated those claims and found that not only does the amber have no measurable effect on infants’ teething pain, “teething jewelry” of all kinds can be extremely dangerous. They can create choking hazards if they break, but that’s not the worst-case scenario — there have been several accounts of babies dying or being seriously injured due to strangulation from some such accessories.
Not taking violence seriously
Young kids are still learning what’s OK and what’s not, and that’s why it’s so important to instill healthy, safe habits early on. One disturbing mannerism small children can pick up is the tendency to hit or become aggressive when they’re upset. It’s so important to teach that physical violence toward others is NEVER the way to get what you want.
Even if they’re small and can’t do much damage, laughing off this type of behavior only encourages them to continue, and it quickly becomes a dangerous and problematic pattern. Of course, knowing the difference between hitting to hurt and protecting oneself is crucial — consider enrolling your little one in a martial arts class to help teach them once they’re old enough.
Discounting children’s feelings
No matter what age you are, feeling heard is important to one’s sense of self. As parents, we’re constantly communicating with our kids and trying to help them develop into happy, functional adults themselves. Even though their opinions and ideas can sometimes seem silly, don’t forget to treat your kids with respect and dignity, as you would anyone else.
Don’t discount their input just because they’re young — their feelings are just as valid as anyone’s and they deserve to be heard and respected. Even very young kids know when they’re being ignored, and that can lead to them acting out and resorting to less-ideal means of getting attention. Work with your kids now to help them express themselves effectively and they’ll be much better off later.
Not respecting kids’ physical boundaries
Another aspect to helping your kids feel independent and in control of themselves is to make sure their bodily autonomy is respected. Kids don’t always feel comfortable hugging, kissing, or even shaking hands with other people, and that’s OK! Forcing them to physically interact can make them feel like they aren’t in charge of their bodies and who touches them.
Teach your kids that they have the right to refuse touching or being touched by someone else if they don’t want to. This is foundational to kids understanding the concept of consent and to respecting their own (and others’) bodies. It can sometimes be awkward when young kids refuse to hug grandpa, but the child’s feelings matter, too, and it’s worth a brief moment of explanation if it means the little one feels safe.
Ignoring a fever
Fevers can be an innocuous response to the body fighting a common cold or other viruses, but in rare cases, they’re a sign of something more serious. For children, whose immune systems aren’t as developed as adults’, it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on any fevers to ensure they don’t run higher than 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, or longer than five days.
In a newborn (less than 3 months old), any fever can be a cause for concern, and the pediatrician should be called. Some children under 5 can experience “febrile seizures” as a side effect of high fevers; they are scary to witness but often harmless if they don’t recur frequently. Basically, a fever is a warning sign — not necessarily cause for alarm, but something to watch carefully.
Being inconsistent with the rules
Anyone who says they’ve never contradicted themselves is either delusional or straight-up lying. It’s one of those unavoidable things about life that occurs without us even knowing, but the mature thing to do is to acknowledge one’s mistakes, move on, and try not to do it again.
It’s especially vital to remember that, as parents, kids are watching our every move closely, and we should try to be as consistent as possible in our words and actions. This prevents little ones from feeling like they’ve been lied to, and prevents confusion and even mistrust. Consistency also helps them learn and retain rules and information more quickly, which is good for everyone!
Not enforcing good handwashing habits
Kids get into some seriously gross stuff as they play, grow, and learn. While it’s not good to be overprotective, bacteria and disease are definitely real risks, and children need to learn how to protect themselves and others from contracting and spreading illnesses.
Learning proper handwashing is an essential skill for healthy, happy kids, and reinforcing these good habits can help build a lifelong tradition of good hygiene. It may not stop them from picking things up out of the trash or sticking their hands in toilets, but at least they’ll know how to clean themselves up.
Overfilling their schedules
Extracurriculars are super valuable in many ways for growing kids. They help kids make friends, develop their skills, and lead them to discover their passions in life. Many parents have the tendency to fill all their kids’ waking hours with activities in the hope that they’ll avoid boredom and grow to be super well-rounded.
While this all sounds great on paper, in practice, it can be problematic. Children, like adults, need a balance of engaging activities and time to rest, relax, and “do nothing.” If kids’ schedules are so packed there’s no time to explore their other interests or simply chill out for a bit, they’ll quickly become burnt out. Let them take it easy once in a while, and the whole family will benefit.
Thumb-sucking seems like a harmless way that kids comfort themselves, and once in a while, it can be OK, but over time, this habit can cause a host of health issues. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, kids sticking their hands in their mouths often means that they’re transmitting bacteria from everything they touched that day right into their systems.
Beyond the risk of disease and infection, long-term thumb-sucking has also been linked to tooth misalignment and could require braces or surgery to correct. It can also cause skin issues around their mouth and on the thumbs, where calluses and irritation can develop. Help kids find better ways to self-soothe, as this habit can be hard to break if continued later in life.
Not monitoring their internet use
In our current generation, kids are introduced to online technology at younger and younger ages. It will continue to be a part of young kids’ lives in a way that is sometimes hard to comprehend for those of us who grew up before the internet became a part of nearly every aspect of our lives.
While it’s an incredibly powerful tool, it’s also crucial to make sure that young children are using the internet in a safe and healthy way. Make sure to have informative conversations with your children once they’re old enough to surf the ’net, and be aware of what types of content they have access to.
Always saying ‘yes’
This may seem like obvious advice, but when faced with a child having a temper tantrum or sweet-talking you into getting what they want, it can be hard to put your foot down. There are a lot of good reasons to stand your ground, however.
One major reason is to teach your kids that when you say something, you mean it. Ambivalence can be confusing to children who are still learning how it all works. It’s also vital to help children understand that they can’t always get everything they want, right when they want it. Disappointment and boundaries are a part of being an adult, and the healthy coping mechanisms they learn now will serve them all their lives.