How to stop nose picking and other icky habits

The Pediatric Insider

© 2011 Roy Benaroch, MD

Kelly’s got this on her mind: “Do you have any suggestions for how to help end yucky habits like nose picking, pulling on a lip or sucking a bottom lip and the area just below it? My husband and I have been alerting our 3.5 and 5.5 year old kids each time we see these behaviors by saying things like ‘keep your hands out of your nose’ or ‘please don’t suck your lip.’ We have also begun to carry tissues around at all times to hand the nose-picker, but it doesn’t seem like we’re getting anywhere in changing these habits. I am hopeful that these habits will end before my kids want to start dating, but do you have any hints on things to try to stop these before then? Thanks!”

Kids. Cute, but also nose-pickin’, lip-biting, crotch-scratchin’ lunatics. All that antisocial, ill-mannered stuff that you can’t image the Supreme Justice of the United States doing? Here’s the secret: he does. We all do. So, really, what you’re asking isn’t as difficult as you think. Your goal really shouldn’t be “how to I get my kid to stop doing this awful stuff?” but rather, “how to I get him to stop doing it in front of me!”

Remember: you can pick your friends. And you can pick your nose. But you can’t pick your friend’s nose!

You can’t stop that stuff entirely. It’s his body, after all, and even if you did have a no-suck-your-lip rule, as soon as you walk away he’ll realize that the rule can be ignored. How are you going to enforce it when you’re not around? The problem with rules that can’t be enforced all of the time: instead of learning “I can’t pick my nose,” they learn “I can ignore the rules when mom’s not around!” That’s a bad lesson to teach a young child.

Stick to rules that you can enforce 100% of the time. Good rules could be “If you need to pick your nose, go do it privately”, or “Go to the bathroom when you need to touch yourself there.” When you catch kids breaking the rule, you can guide them to the bathroom or hand them a tissue, or do whatever it takes to enforce the rule. If they’re doing it privately, that’s OK, they’re not breaking any rules.

This works for “Don’t fart in front of grandma” too. Though I suspect most grandmas wouldn’t mind.

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3 Comments on “How to stop nose picking and other icky habits”

  1. Joe Says:

    I like the lesson to stick to rules that you can enforce 100% of the time. You’re absolutely right about them finding ways and times they can get away with things without being caught in the act.
    My dilemma is my 6 year-old, who won’t stop sucking her thumb. Most of the time it coincides with her holding her favorite stuffed animal, which is fortunately limited to bed and sometimes a sneak visit to the sofa during TV time. We’ve tried taking it away at night, but when she sleeps the thumb stil finds its way to the mouth. I know it can’t be good for her teeth, and my wallet once it comes time for braces.
    Any advice?


  2. Dr. Roy Says:

    Captain Joe, Thumbsucking is a very challenging habit to break (as is nail-biting– how many adults still do that?) More ideas here.


  3. celia Says:

    I confess I let my daughter pick her nose… and eat her boogers. It is gross, but I think it will not harm her to eat her boogers. I have told her not to do in public. I also hand her tissues, which sometimes she uses.
    I am more worried about her post nose-digging dirty fingers spreading viruses/bacteria around.


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