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How to Put a Stop to 11 Bad Habits Your Kid Might Learn in School

Because your kids will learn all kinds of new words that aren't on the teacher-approved vocabulary list.

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Gossiping about others

Gossiping is a nearly irresistible pastime in our culture, but talking about others behind their backs, especially in a mean way, is not only rude but prone to serious backfiring. So if you hear your child gossiping about classmates, it’s important to put a stop to it immediately, says Alison Mitzner, MD, a board-certified pediatrician in New York. “It is important to teach your children how to speak respectfully to, and about, others,” she says. Point out to your child how this habit is disrespectful and hurtful and how they wouldn’t like it if they were the one being gossiped about. Oh, and make sure you’re setting a good example of this yourself, she adds.

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Nail biting or other nervous habits

Going back to school can be incredibly anxiety-provoking in some kids, particularly those prone to nervousness, so it’s important to watch for any signs your child might be overly anxious, Dr. Mitzner says. These could include nail biting, hair pulling, lip chewing, or thumb-sucking. “If your child seems stressed or has anxiety don’t just say, ‘Don’t worry, you’re fine,'” she says. “Their feelings are real, and they should know it is OK to have these feelings.” Instead she says to let them talk and then focus on discussing positive solutions and alternate ways to deal with anxiety.

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A technology addiction

Many schools inadvertently foster an addiction to iPads, cell phones, and tablets at a young age, says Nicole Beurkens, PhD, a child psychologist in Michigan. Not only do they have children use electronic devices in classrooms but many schools allow them to use personal devices during lunch and recess, sometimes to the point where children will often spend all their time outside of class on devices, she explains. Add that to video games or TV at home and a majority of their day can be spent attached to a screen. Fortunately the solution is simple (although not painless): Pull the plug—or at least set some boundaries. You don’t have to allow your child to take their device with them to school and you can set firm rules for screen time at home, she adds. That can be easier said than done, however.

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Chronic whining

There’s something special about school that can really bring out the whining at home. Whether they’re complaining about homework, the bus, their teacher, or the cafeteria, children can find any number of inconveniences to rant about. It’s annoying and many parents will try to argue back. A better tactic, Dr. Beurkens says, is to simply ignore it. “The less response children receive to their complaining, the less likely they are keep doing it,” she says. But if your kid keeps it up she advises tracking how many negative comments your child makes during a set time period and then setting a goal to reduce that number. “This helps children develop awareness of how often they are complaining and that awareness helps them stop themselves,” she says.

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Bingeing on junk food

At home you make sure to serve your child healthy meals and snacks but at school it’s a free-for-all of chips, gummy candy, and pizza. “Foods available in school vending machines, cafeterias, and other children’s lunches can be at odds with the healthy eating habits modeled at home,” Dr. Beurkens says. “When children have access to these foods in school they can develop a bad habit of making poor food choices, and then complain about these unhealthy options being unavailable at home.” Sadly, you can’t control what the cafeteria serves or what other kids bring, so your best bet is to ignore complaints and continue to serve healthy food and model healthy eating at home, according to Dr. Beurkens. Use it as an opportunity for discussion about how to choose what to eat rather than a spark for an argument.


Dropping an F-bomb

Rare is the child who doesn’t learn at least a few colorful new words at school in addition to their regular vocabulary lists. But just because it’s a normal phase of child development doesn’t mean you have to tolerate it, and there are ways to stop it. Cursing is a problem best solved in the moment it happens, says Joel Minden, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Chico Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy. “Stay calm, ask them where they heard the word, if they know what it means, and why they are using it,” he says. “Once you’ve heard their explanation help them come up with a different way to express that same feeling.” Definitely do no rely on old-school consequences like washing their mouth out with soap, as that type of punishment can lead to resentment and more acting out, he adds. In the meantime, be sympathetic—even the best of us let out a curse word or two sometimes.


Cheating on a test

Cheating at school is a classic “bad” behavior, but kids do it for many reasons that may seem logical or reasonable at the time, including feeling stressed about an exam, not understanding the material, and being too afraid to ask for help, Dr. Minden explains. And that motivation can make a big difference in how you treat cheating. “It’s important to let children experience the logical consequence of their cheating, like failing a test or having to redo a project,” he says. But don’t stop there. Work with your child and the teacher to set up the next situation to encourage good behavior by helping to resolve their issues and find better ways to cope when they’re confused or upset, he adds. (It’s not just kids who cheat! Do these 10 steps immediately if you’re caught cheating.)

Telling racist jokes

Children learn social norms at school and sometimes they don’t get it quite right, which can show up as bigoted, racist, sexist, or other inappropriate speech. While your first reaction may be shock and anger, understandably, skip the heated lecture and instead use this as an opportunity to talk about your family’s values and socially appropriate behavior, Dr. Minden says. “Explain exactly why talking this way is hurtful to others,” he says. “Then emphasize the key messages you want to communicate—those that reiterate family values and respect differences.” And, he adds, be sure to consider a logical consequence to use if it happens again, such as not being able to spend time with those friends or loss of social media privileges.


Teasing other kids

No one wants to think their child is the mean one, but the truth is that most kids will tease others on occasion. Instead of playing the “not my kid” card, take accusations of teasing seriously and discuss them with your child. “In many cases this behavior is reinforced by other kids, so talk to your children about how damaging their actions are, even if they’re encouraged by peers,” Dr. Minden explains. “And then make sure it stops. Tell your child, ‘If this escalates, it’s a safety issue and I’ll need to tell your teacher.” Sometimes teasing crosses the line into bullying, which needs to be taken very seriously and stopped immediately. Review these 10 signs your child is a bully for more information about what to do next.

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Looking at porn

Thanks to smartphones and tablets, the average age of first exposure to porn is between 8 and 11 years old, years younger than most people who are adults now, according to statistics gathered by the Novus Project. This means that it’s not a matter of if your child sees porn at school but when—and how you handle it can be crucial to your child’s sexual development. Porn is a matter of safety first when it comes to children, Dr. Minden says, so you should immediately contact the school or other parent, if you know who it is. “Stay calm, tell your child pornography is not for kids and can hurt them,” he advises. Then, ask them if they have any questions about what they saw. “It’s important they get information about sex from you and not from their friends,” he adds. And be sure to keep your kids safe at home by using these apps to protect them from porn and other dangers on the Internet.


Calling themselves names

Nothing breaks a parent’s heart like hearing your beloved child say they are dumb, ugly, stupid, fat or some other critical name. Yet school can magnify kids’ insecurities, especially if your child is a perfectionist or sensitive to begin with. Resist the impulse to argue with them and say, “No, you’re really beautiful/smart/great,” Dr. Minden says, as that invalidates their very real concerns. “Instead, encourage them not to compare themselves to others, help them look for evidence to refute those negative thoughts, and emphasize effort rather than outcomes or things they can’t control,” he advises. Follow that up with opportunities where they can experience success, like in a dance class or on a chess team.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.