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Children's embarrassing habits

By Lorraine Thomas, Parenting Expert Children will often perform their favourite embarrassing habits when they are bored.

A lot of toddlers tend to pick their nose when they are tired or bored.

“Please take your hands out of your pants!”

“Stop picking your nose!”

I frequently talk to parents who are tearing their hair out over habits their little ones are developing that they desperately want to stop.  It wouldn’t be quite so bad if they only did it at home.  

But toddlers usually save their most anti-social behaviour for special moments - with their grandparents, at the nursery door, performing in the nursery play or at the supermarket checkout. It’s natural to feel under pressure as a parent, especially if your toddler is performing in public. Take a deep breath and remember, lots of seemingly unsavoury toddler habits are just a natural part of growing up.  They show that your little one is developing normally. 

Like most parents, you may get really embarrassed (especially if other people see it happen and comment) but your little one can’t understand what all the fuss is about.  The chances are, they may not even know they’re doing it.  Your toddler will have very different ideas from you when it comes to anti-social behaviour.  You’ll notice that this becomes very obvious again when they become a teenager.

Anti-social habits are usually harmless and the chances are they’ll probably grow out of them anyway, but you may well want to speed up the process. Try not to take their behaviour personally.  We’ve all got bad habits and if you are anything like me – you may have some that you’ve had for years.  The sooner you help your toddler deal with their anti-social habits, the easier they will be to break.  

DO …

  • ‘Tune in’ to your toddler and watch out for the warning signs.  Distract them before they start to behave anti-socially.
  • Distract your toddler so that they focus their attention on using their hands for other things and can’t use them to pick noses etc.


  • Give attention to behaviour you want to discourage.
  • Do things yourself at home that you don’t want your toddler to do in public.  If you swear at home, they’ll consider it perfectly acceptable to swear at Tumble Tots!


Most Common Embarrassing Habits:

1. Nose-picking and flicking

Your toddler is exploring themselves and their world.  If that means having a good root around in their nose then you can understand why your toddler may find that fascinating, especially when they can dig something out and eat it! They pick it because it is there.  A lot of toddlers tend to pick their noses when they are tired or bored.  Some toddlers do it when their nose is blocked up and they can feel it getting crusty.  Some do it to annoy their parents. When they pick, the best strategy is to distract them and divert their hand and attention to something else.  Take their hand gently and remove it from their nose.  Give them something else to hold or do with it.  A finger puppet or a clapping game can work wonders.  

2. Hands Down Pants

Most toddlers will play with their private parts at some time or another. Bodies are fascinating.   It’s natural for them to want to know about all the different bits of their body.  This is true of girls and boys.   Give them clear direction and attention and praise for the behaviour you do want.  Instead of saying, “Don’t put your hands down your pants,” say, “Keep your hands up here (and demonstrate by waving yours) because there are lots of fun things for them to do.”  Give them some crayons to draw with or bubbles to blow.  When they’re behaving the way you do want them to do, give them specific praise.  Describe what they are doing and how they are using their hands and what you like about that.  

3. Taking Clothes Off

Another common pastime is taking clothes off.  It’s natural.  Lots of toddlers love the freedom.  But you may not want your little one to unexpectedly do it any time, any place and anywhere.  If you want to discourage them from undressing everywhere, set a safe place for them to do this. Say, “We can take our clothes off at bathtime at home”.  Once they know they have a specific place where they can do it, they are less likely to do it when they’re out and about.  

4. Head Banging

When toddlers don’t get what they want, it’s quite common for them to throw a tantrum that includes banging their head against the closest wall, table or floor.  You may be beside yourself worrying that they’re going scramble their  brain whilst also coping with the fact that the whole world seems to be looking.  But toddlers don’t usually hurt themselves.  They aim for high noise and low pain.  They may think this is a good idea – but won’t want to do it for long especially if you’re not giving them attention for it.   You can usually end it more quickly by giving them an activity that requires lots of movement, such as singing ‘Row The Boat’ or banging a drum.  

Final Thoughts...

Watch Out For Your Bad Habits

Now may be a good time for you to take a look at any bad habits you may have.  You can’t really blame your toddler for doing what you do.  Beware of what you say, for example.  If a toddler hears something said in private, they are very likely to repeat it loudly in public.  Remember that next time you comment on someone’s bad driving and they’re in the back of the car.  When they say something rude, they probably have no idea what it means but can see it has an impact on you.  If that happens, give them something specific to do with their voice instead, e.g. “I want to hear you sing this nursery rhyme.”  

Don’t Overreact … Be Matter Of Fact

The key is to take their behaviour in your stride and to be matter of fact in your approach so that you don’t overreact.  You may well be wishing that the floor will open up and swallow you, but don’t draw too much attention to what they are doing and make a scene when you want them to stop. Keep their behaviour in perspective.  Tune in to when they do it and what may be causing it. They may be totally unaware they’re doing it.  They may be bored or tired.  They may want your attention. 

Some toddlers will do things because they can see it has a real and immediate effect on mum or dad.  It’s the perfect way to become the centre of attention.  Or your little one may feel overwhelmed – this is particularly true of nail-biters.  Understanding what may cause it, will probably help you to feel more positive about dealing with it.  

  Lorraine ThomasLorraine Thomas is on the Toddle About Panel of Experts. She is the Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy and author of ‘Brilliantly Behaved Toddler’. She runs workshops for working parents with clients including Marks & Spencer, Morgan Stanley, Novartis and Barclays. She is used as a parenting expert by Tesco.