As a child grows up, many parents and caregivers start noticing weird habits or behavioral tendencies in their children. Some of these are typical for kids of all ages, such as biting their nails, sticking their fingers in the ear and smelling the wax and so on. But picking the nose seems to be the grossest and most disturbing childhood habit of them all. Not only is it unappealing to see, this particular habit can help spread germs. In fact, a 2018 study in the European Respiratory Journal notes that nose picking can spread the bacteria responsible for pneumonia.
Why do kids pick their nose?
As distasteful as it is, nose picking is actually a pretty common childhood habit—especially for preschoolers. Some of the reasons a child may pick their nose include: a sense of discomfort in the nasal cavity formed by allergies/dried mucus; a nervous habit, like thumb sucking or hair twisting; stress; or boredom.
The problem with nose picking
Nose picking is not only an unsightly habit, but it can actually cause trauma to a child’s nasal passages, resulting in nosebleeds, infections, and hard-to-heal sores. And, there’s the issue of germs. Germs on the fingers can lead to small skin infections inside the nose as well as a way to spread colds and flu. If the habit isn’t stopped in preschool, it may become harder to break as a child gets older.
How do I get my child to stop nose picking?
As soon as a child starts to pick his nose, a parent or caregiver should call immediate attention to it. Some children may not even realize they are picking their nose because it’s an absent-minded habit. But once you do make a child aware of what they are doing, have him or her wash their hands immediately afterwards. Besides gentle reminders to stop picking their nose, also take the time to explain that nose picking is an unclean habit that can cause infection and spread germs that lead to illness for the child and those around them.
Other ways to help a child stop nose picking
- Allergy intervention: As mentioned before, a child may pick his or her nose due to allergies. The most common causes of allergies include dust mites, animal dander, pollen and molds. Check with a primary physician or allergist for help. For other tips on reducing allergies, click here.
- Keep them hydrated: If you live in a dry climate or if heating or air conditioning seems to dry out your child’s nasal passages, be sure to offer lots of fluids during the day. You can also use a humidifier at night to help moisten a child’s nasal passages.
- Try a hanky: Encourage your child to use a handkerchief and blow into it—in private.
- Keep hands busy: Because some kids pick their nose because of boredom, parents and caregivers can suggest ways to keep little hands busy. From making craft projects to solving jigsaw puzzles or playing with building blocks, keeping a child’s fingers out of their nose and on other projects may help end the nose picking habit for good.
- Talk to a professional: If a child is picking their nose so much that it causes nosebleeds or nose picking is part of other nervous habits (like thumb sucking or excessive bedwetting at night), you may want to consult a pediatrician or a children’s therapist. Nose picking could be a sign of an anxiety disorder or other emotional problem that requires professional help.
- Band-aids: Some parents and caregivers have helped their children stop nose picking by simply placing an adhesive bandage on a child’s finger—especially for those children who are subconsciously picking their nose. But if you choose to do so, explain to a child why you are doing it so they can connect the bandage to the bad habit.
- Ignore it: Some parents and caregivers try everything to stop a child from picking their nose—only for the habit to continue. If you choose to simply ignore the problem, make sure your child washes their hands frequently and keeps their fingernails trimmed short and not sharp to avoid any injury. The good news is that, typically, a child will outgrow the habit all on their own.