Ask the Horizons Team: Changing Habits


Ask the Horizons Team: Changing Habits


My daughter just wants to touch people all the time. It’s frustrating and at times can be very embarrassing. She’ll even walk up to strangers. What can we do to stop this? If we tell her “No!” she gets a funny little smile on her face and then sometimes does it again! Help!

~ Linda from Ann Arbor


It sounds like your daughter has become stuck on something that is very frustrating for your family. Sometimes a simple “No” isn’t enough. It also looks like she’s looking for the predictable response that she’ll get from doing this. Often times we’ll see these habits form in order to create a sense of certainty for a child in an uncertain environment. You probably see this happen most when she doesn’t know what else to do or is in an environment that is overwhelming to her. Here are a couple of ideas to help:

  1. Ignore her when she does this. If she is looking for that predictable response (“No!” or frustration), then her need of creating a predictable response in an uncertain environment is being met. If she doesn’t get a response, eventually it won’t be worth doing it anymore.
  2. Provide simple roles for her in both settings. Maybe this is happening while at the grocery store. If this is the case, maybe she can check off the items on the list, look for the items on the list, or simply push the cart. If she is touching people she doesn’t know in public places, make sure you are holding her hand or pushing the cart with one hand over hers to ensure she doesn’t walk off. If this is happening while riding in the car, maybe you can play a simple game like “I Spy.”
  3. Do it back to her. Every time she touches you, touch her back. She may just get the idea how annoying it is!
  4. Role-playing the problem can help spotlight for her what she is doing and how it is bothering others. You can do this with puppets, stuffed animals, or dolls. Use these to act out the scenario in short little “plays” so she can see how it affects other people outside of the immediate moment.
  5. Give her tools to help her not do it, “if you are having a hard time not touching people, you can sit on your hands.” “If you feel like touching somebody, maybe you can squeeze a stress ball instead.”
  6. If you find that none of these other things are working and you feel she is doing it intentionally, offer a consequence. “If you touch me again, you can sit in your room until you are ready to keep your hands to yourself.”

I hope that helps reduce this frustration for you and your family!

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