Manners Makeover

Is there an effective, loving way to break bad habits?

Q.My six-year-old son has developed a few annoying behaviors. I catch him picking his nose, and he usually talks with his mouth full at the dinner table. I don't want to become the "manners police," but is there an effective, loving way to break these habits?

A. Take heart—your son won't pick his nose or talk with his mouth full forever. He'll eventually outgrow this childish behavior. If you'd like to hasten this maturity, may I suggest giving him a good reason to leave behind childish things?

They say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. So when I encouraged my son to stop sucking his thumb, I set up a chart with 21 squares. For each day he completed without sucking his thumb, he put a sticker in that square. If he slipped, discovered the thumb in his mouth, and removed it on his own, that was OK. But if his dad or I discovered it, the countdown began again. We also took this opportunity to teach him about the power of prayer, of asking God for strength when he felt weak. The reward at the end of 21 thumb-free days? A trip to the toy store for the Batman action figure he wanted.

Is there something your son wants badly enough that he'd willingly stop picking his nose or talking with his mouth full? Then offer it to him and watch self-control develop. That way, you aren't the "manners police," and your son can discover he has the power to change his behavior. Even today, with my son almost 13 years old, we often refer to the fact he had the strength to give up thumb-sucking and learned the truth he can do all things through Christ.

LISA WHELCHEL is the author of Creative Correction (Tyndale) and So You're Thinking About Homeschooling (Multnomah). She and her husband, Steve, have three children.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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