Toddlers have habits that can be pretty odd. They suck their thumbs or pacifiers when they’re stressed out. They get fascinated with things like walking on tiptoes and even their private parts. Some of them also bang their heads on their cribs when they’re frustrated, which is alarming for any first-time parent.
Is there reason to worry about habits like these? Will your child outgrow them? Experts explain your little one’s behavior and when you should talk to a pediatrician about it.
1. Pacifier use Sucking for some babies and toddlers has a soothing and calming effect, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Using a pacifier is acceptable for those babies who need to satisfy their sucking reflex,” says Dr. Carina De Los Reyes, a pediatric dentist and a former president of the Philippine Pediatric Dental Society, Inc. (PPDSI). Most children will also naturally lose interest in their pacifiers by age 3 or 4.
When to worry: “Beyond 2 years old, together with increased frequency and intensity of use, a pacifier may affect the positioning of a child’s teeth,” says pediatric dentist Dr. Georgina Remulla, a director of PPDSI.
Prolonged pacifier use can result in open bites, cross bites and protruding teeth. Dr. De Los Reyes advises, “Withdrawal of the habit should be encouraged gradually by age 1 and stopped altogether by age 4.”
2. Thumb sucking If his teeth are your concern, you don’t need to worry too much about your child’s thumb sucking at toddler age. “Their mouths are still pliable, and their teeth are not yet permanent,” says dentist Dr. Erwin Martin Cabusas.
It’s also normal for preschoolers to suck their thumbs or bite their nails too, adds Dr. Cabusas. “These are harmless ways of soothing themselves and releasing tension. They will learn to lose these habits at their own pace. With a calm and relaxed reminder every now and then, you’ll be able to get your message through.”
When to worry: “By age 6, your child will start growing permanent teeth. Sustained thumb sucking at this age may push their newly erupted front teeth forward. In this case, you will most likely have to save up for a meeting with an orthodontist,” says Dr. Cabusas.
3. Head banging Head banging is considered to be normal behavior in children between 1 to 2 years old. In most cases, the habit fades away by age 3. Up to 20 percent of babies bang their head on purpose, according to Anita Sethi, Ph.D., a research scientist at The Child and Family Policy Center at New York University, in an article for Parenting.
“Some children bang their heads because their language skills have not adequately developed yet. They have no means of expressing difficult emotions like frustration or anger or have no better way to ask for what they want,” Ma. Araceli ‘Lala’ Balajadia-Alcala, a clinical psychologist at the Philippine Children's Medical Center.
When to worry: There is a cause for concern if your child bangs his head a lot and repeatedly during the day for no apparent reason, said Balajadia-Alcala. Consult your child's doctor if your child continues to hit his head even if it's causing him pain, he starts to lose skills he’s already learned or starts to become withdrawn.
4. Touching private parts A child’s exploration of his private parts starts at around age 3 to 4 years old, explained Dr. Mary Daryl Joyce Lindo-Calleja, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at The Medical City.
“Children are normally very inquisitive. Meaning, they are curious about themselves, which includes their bodies and their environment. As young as 3 years old, some may show interest in their genitals by touching them or showing them to other children or adults.”
When to worry: “Sexual behaviors in young children, which are part of normal development, are usually easily diverted, spontaneous and seemingly out of curiosity,” says Dr. Lindo-Calleja. “If the behavior is persistent, not easily diverted, and increasing in duration and frequency, it could already be a cause for concern.”
Talk to a pediatrician if your child has extensive knowledge of sex and sexual practices, takes his off clothes persistently in public, and masturbates in public.
5. Walking on tiptoes “Most children ‘toe walk’ occasionally when they're cruising (moving around a room using various objects for support) and when they're first starting to walk, especially if they're walking on a bare floor,” Dr. Andrew Adesman says in an article for BabyCenter. Some toddlers even do it on and off just for fun.
As long as she doesn’t do it most of the time, toe walking around 2 years old shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Kids typically outgrow doing it own by age 3.
When to worry: If your toddler’s tiptoeing is persistent and continues beyond age 3, consult a doctor. Toe walking has been linked to several problems including cerebral palsy, developmental disorders, nervous system problems, and muscle weakness disorders.