Early on, comfort habits fill an significant need for your child. Try to value this sense of purpose, and you may keep away from feeling anxious or embarrassed about your child’s particular “vice.”
There is plenty of evidence that the more anxious you feel about thumb sucking, for instance, and the more attention you draw to it, the more you end up reinforcing the very behavior that disturbs you.
Some habits, of course, are more endearing (the worn teddy) and others more repulsive (the blanket, once a lovely shade of blue, now shabby and gray). But they are all a means to an end.
In the first few years of life your child must move from being totally dependent on you to being able to cope when you’re not there. (It may help to recall your own anxiety the first time you left your baby with someone else for a few hours.) For the young child, comfort habits act as a “bridge” between what is known and what is new.
For the same reason, older children continue to relapse to earlier forms of behavior as they take major new steps in development.
A child starting kindergarten, for instance, may become anxious about saying good-bye or resort to temper tantrums again. Regression is also a hallmark of preadolescence. A nine-year-old may suddenly resume the same behavior that had you worried years before: nervous hair-twirling, nail-biting, anxiety about separation or about making mistakes.
To the extent that a child is otherwise able to cope with school and social life, however, these tendencies usually fall into a normal range of behavior. Some parents wonder: â€œDo I expect too much too soon from my child?â€ There is some irony in the fact that our culture expects so much independence at an early age, yet when children develop the coping mechanisms they need, we cry, “Foul!” Consider the number of accomplishments we expect of a typical two-year-old:
- Today, more than half of all mothers with children under the age of six work at least part time. And over two million children attend day care or nursery school while their mothers work. Early separation from a parent may be a fact of life for these children, but it is an adjustment in any case.
- No firm numbers are available, but the majority of preschools and nursery schools either prefer or require that children be toilet trained, roughly by age two and a half – even though childhood experts agree that for many little boys, age three is a better time to begin training.
Lastly, it is interesting to note that millions of American children simply attend the public school in their neighborhood. But in cities across the country many parents apply to private schools. These mothers and fathers probably worry about comfort habits and how “competent” their child appears because the dreaded school interview looms ahead.