Nervous habits and stereotyped behaviors in preschool children

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1998 Jul;37(7):711-7. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199807000-00010.


Objective: To examine the frequency, age trends, and situational correlates of nervous habits (e.g., nail-biting, thumb-sucking) and motor stereotyped behaviors (e.g., body-rocking) in typically developing preschool children.

Method: Data were compiled from 100 teacher interviews and 32 parent interviews on children aged 3 to 6 years. A semistructured, individually administered interview was used.

Results: Parents reported the most behaviors, with the most common behaviors being thumb-sucking (25%) and nail-biting (23%). Motor stereotypies demonstrated a frequency of 4% as reported by the teachers and a frequency of 3% as reported by the parents. Teachers reported a decrease in children having the nervous habit of picking at sores, lips, etc., with age. Parents reported a significant decrease in all nervous habits with age. Nervous habits were associated with structured times during the day and negative mood states, and teachers reported that girls were more likely than boys to display nervous habits.

Conclusion: Nervous habits and stereotypies are prevalent in typically developing preschool children, and their presence appears to be a reflection of mood state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Anxiety*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Fingersucking
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Nail Biting
  • Sex Factors
  • Stereotyped Behavior*