Air swallowing is less common than thigh rubbing, but belongs to the same group of actions and takes place in the same drowsy condition. The child will rapidly gulp down air which distends the stomach, and is then regurgitated with a loud sound. Thumb sucking seldom distresses the mother to the same extent, and the proper attitude of tolerance is adopted towards it. If much is made of it, it is astonishing how persistent the habit may become, surviving all attempts to forbid it, to break it by rewards or punishments, or to render it distasteful by the application of a variety of ill-tasting substances smeared on the offending digit.
Certain other bad habits will become ingrained if attention is called to them, because of that curious spirit of opposition which characterises little children, and because of their susceptibility to suggestion. Some children will constantly pluck out hairs and eat them, or will devour particles of fluff drawn from the blankets. Others will seize every opportunity to eat unpleasant things, such as earth, sand, mud, or dirt of any sort. All tricks of this sort are best neglected and treated by attracting the child’s attention to other things. In adult life they are associated with serious mental disturbance, in early childhood they are of little account, or at most suggest a certain nervousness which may be due to nervous irritation from faults of management which we must strive to correct.
As has been already mentioned, much of the common constipation of the nursery is due to neurosis. The excessive concentration of the nurse’s thoughts on this daily question communicates itself to the child. The difficulty is emphasised, and an attempt is made to substitute will power for forces of suggestion which are at once inhibited by concentration of the mind upon the process. Here also, just as in the refusal of food, a further stage of “negativism,” that is, of active resistance with crying and struggling, is reached, so that complaint may be made by the mother that defaecation is painful. The same negativism may be shown in micturition, and mothers will give distressing accounts of the suffering of the child during the passing of water.