Picking scabs

The Pediatric Insider

© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD

S.A. asked, “What kind of discipline strategy can I use to get my daughter to stop picking at scabs. She’s three years old, and she has a lot of scars already.”

I don’t think a traditional “discipline strategy” is really what you’re looking for—at least no one based on rules. You shouldn’t “forbid” the picking, or make a rule that says “No Picking,” because you won’t be able to enforce that kind of rule. For young children, it’s important that any rule you make is 100% enforceable, all of the time. That’s the best way for children to learn that rules are rules, and rules can’t be broken. If you make a “don’t pick” rule, as soon as you turn your back the picking will resume. So what your daughter will learn is “I don’t have to follow rules when mom isn’t watching.” And she’ll still be picking!

Instead of trying to forbid the picking, try distraction instead. When you see picking, give your daughter a toy, or suggest something else to do. Something that’s new or different is more likely to get her attention, and a game with mom is always fun.

You can also make a positive reinforcement chart. You can work out the details, but you could start with something like: If a day goes by without picking, she gets one sticker. Three stickers earns a trip to the dollar store; six stickers ears a trip out for ice cream.

Once wounds heal, they won’t attract picky fingers. Help minor skin wounds heal faster by washing them gently every day with soapy water. Afterwards, rinse, dry, put on a dab of antibiotic ointment (like Polysporin), and cover it with an adhesive bandage. Colorful or cartoony Bandaids might be more likely to discourage picking. If any of the sores are draining, painful, or spreading, take her to her doctor.

Though picking can make sores and scabs more prominent, and can learn to dark spots, it’s rare for these spots to be permanent. They may take a while to fade, but superficial sores, even picked-at ones, rarely leave any permanent marks. If your child is truly digging at these things aggressively and constantly, talk with her doctor to make sure that there isn’t a more-serious developmental issue going on.

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