Most parents have been in this situation before: You’re standing in the grocery store line and you notice the woman at the checkout staring at your toddler. You look down and there’s your cute little angel with her finger up her nose, seemingly oblivious to the looks of disgust she’s getting from people around her.
It’s true that folks are usually pretty forgiving about kids picking their noses in public… everyone’s child has done it at one time or another. But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable behaviour, and when it’s a chronic problem, it needs to be nipped in the bud.
Why it happens
If nose picking has become an everyday activity for your child, it’s good to look at some possible reasons:
Children with allergies are more likely to pick their noses because they are constantly stuffed up and feel like there’s something in there that needs to come out. It’s only natural to want to get it out the best way they can think of…with their finger!
2. A sore or scratch
If your child develops what seems like a sudden fascination with the inside of his nose, take a look for anything that might be irritating or hurting him. He may not be able to articulate it, but may just feel like something’s not quite right and want to keep scratching or touching it.
Chronic nose-picking, along with thumb-sucking and trouble sleeping, can be signs of anxiety or nervousness. Try to notice when it happens…if she picks her nose every morning when you get to the daycare centre, she might just be trying to comfort herself. For restless children, using their hands to do something, even picking their nose, can help them feel less nervous.
Once you have honed in on the possible reasons (and unfortunately in some kids it’s no more complicated that just enjoying it!), you can come up with some strategies for dealing with the behaviour.
Nagging isn’t the way to go. The constant reminders might work to get your child’s finger out of her nose for a minute, but as soon as you turn your back, chances are it’s going right back in there.
A great tool for dealing with nose picking is distraction. Whenever possible, try to keep those little hands busy doing something else. If your child is making a house out of blocks or making you dinner with his plastic vegetables, he won’t be thinking about picking his nose. It’s usually something that kids do when they’re idle: watching TV, riding in the car, sitting in the grocery cart. If you bring activities or books with them for these times you know they will be most likely to pick their noses, you can usually manage to stop it before it even begins.
If distraction doesn’t seem to work and your child is old enough, have a discussion about the consequences of nose picking. You can explain that it helps spread germs, which could make them sick or make other people sick. You can also talk about appropriate public behavior and what is expected of them. Without shaming them, tell them that nose picking is not something they should be doing in public, just like they shouldn’t be running screaming down the aisles at the grocery store or throwing sugar packets on the ground at the coffee shop.
Keep offering tissues or even have a special handkerchief in your child’s favourite colour or with a favourite TV character on it. You can gently remind him to use his handkerchief every time he starts to pick his nose.
If all else fails, there’s always the trusty reward chart. Offer a sticker or small treat at the end of every day that your child doesn’t pick her nose. Some children just need a little extra incentive to stop, and the excitement of getting the treat might do the trick!
Remember that nose picking, like so many other issues that drive parents crazy, is just another phase that will be gone before you know it:)
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