Using Neurolinguistic Programming to Break Oral Habits in Children

NLP or Neurolinguistic Programming is the art of understanding and communicating in the way that the recipient actually gets the message. As Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. NLP plays an important role in choosing right words, right emotions, and expressions so that the young minds understand.

When it comes to oral health, most parents are concerned about oral habits such as thumb or finger sucking. The first thing I ask the child are these basic questions, “Do you want the change?”, “Are you willing to make the effort?” or “Are you happy with the effect of these habits?”.

When the answer to these questions is positive and child is willing to make the change, I would first acknowledge the habit. It’s fine to have a certain habit, and its equally fine to be willing to overcome it.

Habit is composed of two factors: intention and behavior. When I tackle the concerned habit, I address the intention first. Usually it’s the feeling of warmth, soothing, relief, comfort and reassurance when it comes to thumb sucking or finger sucking. As an NLP coach, I don’t want to disrupt the intention. I want to take care of the intention but substitute the behavior.

It can be the replacement with a new toy, comforter, blanket or soothing music, light, dream catcher or any other object of interest in the room. While we are trying to substitute the behavior, it’s also important to physically restrain the thumb or finger.
Dr. Imneet with patient Sven
Dr. Imneet with patients Alba and Elysia

Children love routines and they love acknowledgment. One example, I advise them to use long socks or tube socks at night time. Each night when the child sleeps with the socks on, they get to place a star on the weekly star chart in the morning. When a child is made aware that thirty stars in a row gets them there favourite toy at the store, they are subconsciously driven to do their best.

At the end of thirty days, I look through the star chart, address the consequences of habit once again showing the right models and videos at the office.

The whole journey is then repeated for the next one month and usually by the end of three months, I see a positive effect.

To summarize, habit breaking is an effort and it’s a journey which I embark on with the parents and the child. NLP brings in the component of chosen words communication, substituting the habit, subconsciously training the brain and consequential thinking. It’s a modest approach for habit breaking in children.

Oral habits do not only refer to thumb sucking. It comes in different forms. It could be tongue thrusting for some child, mouth breathing for others. What habits do you see in your child? How are you addressing it?

Laser Specialist Pediatric Dentist
Visiting Faculty, AALZ, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
Neurolinguistic Programming Coach
Six Sigma Green Belt
MSc Lasers Dentistry (Germany)
Masters in Pediatric Dentistry
MBA (Hospital Management)
Bachelor of Dental Surgery
Children’s Dental Center, Dubai


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