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Handling Habitual Nose-picking

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How To Overcome A Nose-Picking Habit

Are you grossed out by nose picking? Can’t stop your child from "mining for nuggets"?  Yuck! Here is some information you are going to need to stop the picking and move to better hygiene  habits.

Why Do They Pick?
I was surprised to learn that children are born with very tiny sinus cavities, that grow as the child grows and don’t  reach full size until  about age twelve. That means that toddlers don’t have a nice "holding tank" and any mucus that is produced only has one place to go.

Children discover their noses pretty early in life and find it is an  interesting cavern with interesting feelings, textures, and tastes (sorry).  For some, picking can become a bit of boredom buster, for others it is a form of self soothing, and it can just as easily turn to habit.

What should you do if your child has made picking a habit?

TTFT – Take Time For Training
We always start with training. In the famous words of Dr Rudolph Dreikurs "You will spend more time correcting a child than training them properly in the first place".

Training has both educational and skill components.

Let your child know that the stuff that comes out of their body is nature’s wonderful dirt and germ trap. It is leaving their body so it gets rid  of that yucky stuff and they don’t get sick. Eating it is putting back  what their body told them it doesn’t want, and that can’t be good.

Show your child where the Kleenex is kept and how to grab hold and pull  one out of the box. Show them how to hold it over their nose and blow out big while kind of pinching the Kleenex in place. Let them go first,  you go second and get any remains. Show them that the Kleenex then  needs to be carried to the garbage. You can also show them how to wrap Kleenex around a finger if they are really clogged up. Explain that  this is something that requires privacy as the public does not want  to see those self-care functions (like nail clipping and cleaning)  and so the bathroom is the best place for that kind of activity. Explain that hands need to be washed after if things are messy since germs  may now be on their hands.

What Not To Do
If you getting overly involved in "breaking this habit" or  start to nag about their nose picking, your child may decide to do it  just to get your attention. You don’t want to create a power struggle or support attention seeking behaviour so you have to be calm and collected about this issue.

Make sure you always separate the deed from the doer. "Nose picking is gross" speaks to the behaviour and behaviour can be changed in  a heart beat. "You’re gross" refers to one’s character and  this is more fixed and becomes a label that hurts one’s self-concept.

Caught In The Act
What should you do if you see your child picking their nose after you’ve taken the time to train them? Try one of the following:

  • Ignore it – it will go away without intervention  if they have been nose picking to get your attention.
  • Act, don’t talk – simply hand them the Kleenex box.
  • Act, don’t talk – simply walk them to the bathroom for  privacy. They know why you are leading them there.
  • Offer choice – "Would you like a Kleenex or to excuse yourself to the bathroom?"
  • Use "I messages" – "I’m feel grossed out when you  pick your nose in front of me. I’d prefer if you did that in the washroom".
  • Offer choice – "I am not willing to  watch while you pick your nose. Can you stop or shall I go?"
  • Be firm and friendly – if they keep picking, leave without getting upset.
  • If one doesn’t work choose another tactic from the list. Keep working until you get success.

What If Nothing Works?
In closing, let me remind you that somehow before adulthood most people  do learn this social convention. The best teachers of social convention  will often be peers on the schoolyard who will give them a hard time  about this habit, motivating the picker to abandon the habit. At times  peer pressure can be for the good!

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

One Response to “Handling Habitual Nose-picking”

  1. Trish McNalley

    I truly believe that suggesting the child go to the bathroom or somewhere private do something that is nasty and shameful only encourages and signals the child a) it’s o.k. to do it if no one is watching and b) that there may be other innappropriate things can I do since my parents approve of my excercising of unhealthy habits in privacy.
    This habit can be broken without harshness, but permissiveness is also harmful.


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