Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

How to break a kid’s ‘annoying’ habit without breaking her spirit

March 27, 2010

What are you talking about, Mom? I don't bite my nails... much

What are you talking about, Mom? I don't bite my nails... much

The people we love most are better than the rest of humanity at annoying the crap out of us. Especially our kids. Double the annoyance factor if the child in question is your only child.

In case you’re wondering why their thumb sucking, fidgeting or hair twirling drives you to distraction, here’s my theory: Shaping them into our vision of “perfection” (so they are assured to attract a mate) is our biological imperative.

At least that’s what we believe.

So what do you do when your kid, tween or teen has a singularly unattractive bad habit? Nag? Threaten? Cajole? Plead? Or do you attempt to ignore it while grinding your teeth into useless nubs? Just so happens I got an email today from the  mom of an Olympic champion nail biter. Listen in:

Hi Annie,

My seventh grader bites her nails, she has done it “forever.” Any  suggestions because my nagging has not been improving the situation.

Mom on the Ledge


Dear Mom,

I’m not surprised your nagging hasn’t helped. Not because “Please stop that!” isn’t good advice. It is. However, I’m guessing that your daughter is mostly unaware of putting her fingers in her mouth. The other part of this unconscious habit is that there is likely a soothing/calming aspect to it. Which is why she does it. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What is your biggest objection to her nail biting?
  • In which situations (school, social, etc.) is she most likely to bite her nails?
  • Aside from being a “nail biter” how would you describe your daughter?
  • Has she specifically said that she’d like to break this habit?

In friendship,



Hi Annie,

I asked my daughter if she would like to stop biting her nails after your insightful question. She said “No” then “Yes, if I don’t have to put much energy into it.” She and her dad bite their nails, she has most of her life.

She bites her cuticles as well, in the car, reading, in social settings. She is a great kid, reads, dances, sings, plays the piano, is a great student, independently motivated to do homework, has started to help around the house more in the last year, has positive relationships with friends, is a single child. My concern about the nail biting is that it exposes a person to more germs though she rarely gets sick so maybe it’s been good for her immune system!

Thank you for helping me be a better parent.

Mom on the Ledge


Dear Mom,

Sound like you’re taking the nagging permanently off the table. Great! It probably hasn’t worked with your husband either! And with a tween/teen, you certainly don’t want to provide her inner rebel a reason to not take your good advice.

The good news here is that it sounds like your daughter would like to stop biting her nails. So how about offering her a reward/incentive program? This might work because she sounds like an achiever who is, as you say, “independently motivated” to get homework done (in order to earn great grades, etc.). Have a talk with her about working toward earning something she wants if she can make progress in breaking the habit…. Cash toward a special item or experience she’s been wanting (like a concert or a trip to a theme park, etc.).  Establish a system in which there’s a nail inspection at the end of each week. (Make a chart if she likes so she can see how she’s gaining mastery over the behavior.) For each fingernail that you can neatly clip with a nail clipper at the end of each week, she earns a certain amount of money or points that go directly toward what she’s saving up for. Each week there could be an added BONUS (double the money/points) if all 10 fingernails are clipable. If she’s into the idea, you could reward her with a professional manicure!

Research shows that if a person can refrain from a long established bad habit for 30 days then he/she can lick it. Whenever she consciously chooses not to bite her nails, new neuron pathways replace the old, and after a month she won’t do it any more. It’s not any different when someone wants to take up a new healthy habit, like walking every day. After 30 days of pushing through mental resistance and taking the walk, the new habit become “normal.”

Your daughter’s smart and motivated, so this might work. Also, I would guess that at some point as her social life kicks in, she will become more aware of how others in her peer group (girls and guys) perceive her. Bottom line, chomping on your nails and cuticles isn’t all that attractive if you want someone to hold your hand!

I hope this helps!

In friendship,


If you’ve got a success story about helping a child put himself back in control of an out-of-control habit, please post a comment! This is an educational forum. Big thanks to the mom who gave me permission to reprint our email exchange. Sharing stories and concerns is how we all become more effective parents.


Desperately Seeking a (new) Boyfriend

March 10, 2010


Battered, broken, but still thumping

I got this email the other day. The girl who wrote it feels hurt and rejected because her boyfriend just dumped her. She’s flipping out a little so her idea of what’s going to solve her problem makes about as much sense as… well, why not just read it for yourself?

Hey Terra,

My boyfriend recently broke up with me (over the phone!) and I’m still really heart-broken and don’t know how to get over him. Also there’s this other guy who’s in the school play with me. I’ve liked him even before I started  going with my ex. On Saturday the play ends.  I probably won’t see him anymore after that so Saturday is my last chance to get things started with him. Should I tell him how I really feel even though we don’t know each other very well???

Desperate Dina

Hi Dina,

I understand how upsetting it is to have someone break up with you. You’re hurting. I get that. It’s normal to feel that when you’ve been rejected. But this is NOT the time to jump into a new relationship. You are way too vulnerable. And maybe even a little confused in your thinking. Going up to the guy in the play and telling him you like him is just… dumb. Don’t go there! You’re setting yourself up for another rejection. Give yourself a break from guys. You can do that, can’t you?

In friendship,

Hey Terra,

Thank You!! I listened to your advice and it made major sense… I guess I was just really upset about how my ex just up and broke up with me that I decided the only way I could heal is if I just went out and found someone new when the thing I really needed to do was take a long clear look at what it was I was really after… Someone who could replace my ex. Now I know that that’s NOT something I need to do and I am learning to acccept myself for who I really am…… although I really do struggle with low self esteem. How do you suggest a person builds up self esteem cuz I must say I am in desperate need!


Hey Dina,

You should be so proud of yourself. You totally got what I was saying and that tells me that you are open-minded, open-hearted and so ready to put yourself back in charge of your own life. Brava!!! Do you really think you are in “desperate need” of self-esteem? I don’t see it that way. You know exactly who you are, what’s right for you and what is not OK. That’s the definition of “self-esteem.”

In friendship,

Sometimes what we really need is a chance at a new relationship with ourselves.

Filed under: Parenting,Teens — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 9:52 pm

Podcast: The Gift of Confidence

March 8, 2010

"Parents' Guide to the Middle School Years" by Joe Bruzzese

"Parents' Guide to the Middle School Years" by Joe Bruzzese

In honor of the upcoming 1st anniversary of the launch of our podcast series Family Confidential we remastered the first two podcasts to improve the sound quality. We’ve learned a lot in the past year about how to produce great podcasts. We must be doing something right because we’ve had close to 18,000 downloads of these puppies.

So… for your listening enjoyment, here’s Podcast #01: The Gift of Confidence (redux)


We all want our kids to succeed and grow up up to be confident, resilient, thoughtful young adults who can competently manage their own lives. But sometimes what we say we want is at odds with our parenting choices. Boy is it ever! Especially when it comes to doing what’s really necessary to help our children develop independence. Like when we say: “Your homework is your responsibility” and then spend the entire afternoon and evening nagging: “Do you have a lot of homework?” “How much do you have?” “I thought you were working on your homework!” “Did you finish your homework?” “Let me check your homework.” Auugggh! Not only will all this micro-managing create loads of tension, it’s also doing nothing to encourage self-confidence in your child.

In this episode of Family ConfidentialThe Gift of Confidence, I talk with Joe Bruzzese M.A., author of “A Parents’ Guide to the Middle School Years”. Joe’s book and his ongoing work as a parent coach offer practical advice for building confidence in your child.

Listen here (QuickTime required):

If you have iTunes, you can subscribe to this podcast in the iTunes Store.

Or, you can download an MP3 version here.

Subscribe to Family Confidential and tune in each time!

*What’s a podcast? “A podcast is a series of digital media files, usually either digital audio or video, that is made available for download via web syndication.” — Wikipedia… So, in this case, there’s an audio file for you to listen to (in addition to reading the above).


Got a Strategic Parenting Plan? Get one!

March 3, 2010

What's the plan, Dad?

What's the plan, Dad?

I do a fair amount of parent education seminars. If you’ve ever caught my act you know my presentation style is very casual. But while it may look like all I’m doing is leading discussions based on teen email from the likes of “Invisible Loser” and “Stuck and Lonely” plus sharing war stories about discovering our daughter on the phone with her boyfriend at 2:37 AM (on a school night!) and morphing into Godzilla in the doorway of our son’s absurdly cluttered room… I actually prepare for every parenting workshop. Seriously. I’m a teacher. Educational objectives and lesson plans and are in my DNA.

All parents are teachers. At 18 your kids will graduate from your private school of human development and race into the world with a bunch of lessons learned… from you.

What will your exit exam measure? Not sure? You’re not alone. In the first 5 years of a child’s life parents have a packed curriculum for their little ones to master (walking, talking, potty training, toy sharing, nose-blowing, etc.). But beyond 1st or 2nd grade parenting objectives start getting fuzzy.

As parents of teens your days of close-at-hand parenting are numbered. So if you are currently a bit unclear about some of your parenting goals maybe I can help. Here’s a question I often ask at my workshops: What are your top 5 parenting objectives? That is, by the time your kid graduates high school and begins the first chapter of adult life, what kind of person would you like him/her to be?

Usual responses include:

· Self-sufficient

· Independent

· Caring

· Responsible

· A good friend

· Productive

· Honest

· Self-confident

· Healthy life style

· Able to make good decisions

It’s a great starter list, but listing goals is obviously easier than working to achieve them so here’s my next question: What are you consciously doing to support the development of the skills and character traits you say you want for your kids? I realize that’s a tough one because we’re all so busy. But if you buy into the premise that parents are teachers and have some accountability for the way their kids turn out then you need a strategic parenting plan.

That means you’ve got to figure out a) what your plan is and b) how to put it into action. How else will your kids get to the place you say you want them to reach by the time their packing for college? Most of us don’t usually think about parenting in such concrete ways. But Mom, Dad, with all due respect, if you’ve got no game plan, your list of parenting objectives are just of bunch of words. Granted, raising kids is an art and not a science, but still, if you’ve got things you want them to learn from you, then you have to teach them.

Here’s my final question for today: What might you be doing (consciously or unconsciously) to undermine your own stated objectives? Maybe you say that you want your child to be self-sufficient, but you’re still dragging your 15 year old out of bed every morning, making him lunch and checking his homework. Maybe you say you want your 14 year old to be self-confident, but you also routinely tell her she’s lazy, rude, self-centered and can’t do anything right.

You get the idea. You need to be aware of your parenting objectives and you need to be the kind of teacher that supports your own curriculum every single day.

One more thing to keep in mind… if you’re not personally modeling what you teach, then you’re teaching something else. Simply put, you can’t expect your kids to treat you with respect if you are routinely rude to them as well as to waiters, cashiers, etc. Your kids are watching, listening and learning.

Class dismissed. See you next time.

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