When a toddler is left on her own for a few moments, she will look at, listen to, taste, touch or smell anything and everything. She will, as every mother knows, taste a worm as easily as a paw paw. In this situation, the word ‘don’t’ becomes a very common experience for mothers.
True, you need to resort to this word to protect your child from potentially dangerous situations, but there are also many occasions when the word is used unnecessarily; when you want to save yourself the inconvenience of a child getting untidy, for instance. What you overlook is that, from a child’s point of view, ‘Don’t...’ is the equivalent of saying ‘Don’t learn.’
If, in the course of discovering the world, a child finds herself constantly confronted with the word don’t and is, therefore, constantly frustrated and checked, she will begin to seek consolation in comfort habits such as cot-rocking, head-banging, thumb-sucking and blanket-sucking and playing with her own body. This underlies the importance of reserving the word ‘don’t’ for dangerous situations.
A child who is encouraged and allowed to make maximum use of her senses, whose mind and hands are healthily occupied, will not be prone to seeking solace in comfort habits.
A child also seeks comfort because the world can often seem a very insecure place. Young and inexperienced, she takes nothing for granted. People come and go and routines change, nothing seems permanent.
She feels overwhelmed and, in seeking to reassure herself, she makes the discovery that her own thumb and other parts of her body are permanent, in that they are always present, or that she finds one thing, such as a nappy or piece of blanket, which she can wed herself to and never put down.
Another reason for comfort habits is that a child often finds herself in a situation where she is expected to display a maturity that, for the moment, is beyond her scope. She reacts to this stress by taking a step back to the security of an earlier stage of her development and seeks comfort, for instance, in sucking.
If a child seeks comfort in comfort habits ask yourself: Is she unnecessarily restricted? Is she feeling pressurized? Is she insecure? Then make the appropriate adjustments without expecting the habit to dissolve miraculously overnight.
A baby is naturally fascinated by her own hands and fingers and will suck them for reasons of exploration as well as comfort.
If, however, an older child begins to suck her thumb, parents can be sure that she is in need of love and attention and that there is a reason which needs seeking out.
The reasons are as many and varied as children themselves, but it is wise to check that the child is not feeling unwell, under emotional strain of stress or insecure. Jealousy of a younger sibling may, for instance, cause an older child to resort to thumb-sucking.
Head-banging and cot-rocking
Although these two habits are alarming and noisy, the child rarely comes to physical harm. A simple precaution, however, is to pad the head of the baby’s cot or the wall around the cot, and to screw the legs of the cot to the floor.
It’s important to discover why a child is driven to seek comfort in compulsive rocking and head-banging. If, having given your child extra love and attention and having checked points in need, the behavior continues, consult a doctor.
The ultimate solution for all comfort habits is to resist saying ‘don’t’ do that’ and to offer, instead, an alternative activity. This will immediately attract the child’s attention and occupy her hands and mind in a more useful way. A child whose mind and hands are kept healthily occupied soon forgets undesirable occupations.