Stop the Nose Picking!

Little boy standing picking his nose

Dear Dr. Rene,

Any advice on how to get my 2-year old to stop picking his nose? He is obsessed with it – and there isn’t even much in there since his nose is so runny this time of year! Not only is it really gross, but I have an infant at home and really want to keep his germs of his fingers and away from her.

Thanks!

Kathleen, mom of two

Hi Kathleen,

There are a few answers for a two year old and more answers as they get older.  I am going to give you all the answers here and highlight the parts I think would be best for his little age.

First, eliminate any irritants.  This includes excessive mucus from allergies or a cold.  This may be best treated with a nasal aspirator or neti pot and saline wash.  Also regularly wash off any crusty spots with a warm towel.  It may also be that the nose is too dry due to dehydration or dry weather.  This may be treated with a moisturizing nasal spray, a humidifier or a thin coat of petroleum jelly in the nostrils.  The idea is if the nose is uncomfortable or itchy, children tend to pick more.

Children may also pick out of habit or boredom.  If this is the case, everytime

  • Quietly remind him to keep his hands down or keep his fingers out of his nose.  State this in the positive. Avoid the negative direction of “Don’t pick your nose.”  You may also have to guide his hands gently down.  
  • Give him a tissue or help him to blow and wipe his nose with a tissue and have him take it to the trash.  It can be helpful to occasionally give a sentence of praise, “You used a tissue!  That’s healthy!”
  • Have him or help him wash his hands, every time.

It may be helpful to provide incompatible behaviors.  Children who are coloring, building with blocks or doing puzzles are less likely to be picking their nose.  This means keeping their hands busy and providing distractor tasks even when you are out of the house.  Carry things in your bag to keep his hands busy.

Keep nails clean and trimmed short.

You might, each morning, put bandaids around the tip of each picking finger.

You might talk about how it is an embarrassing and socially unacceptable behavior, in kid terms that would be, “Other people think it’s gross for you to pick your nose.”  You might talk about how it spreads germs and can make their own nose infected.  Be sure this isn’t a lecture, just a sentence or two if often more effective.  For a two year old, just say “Gross!” 

If all this isn’t effective, you might teach how this is a “private behavior,” for when a child is alone in the bathroom or their bedroom.  If you go this route, provide tissues in those rooms and have him wash his hands after.

If it truely seems compulsive, constant or paired with other behaviors of concern, may be worth talking to your pediatrician about.

You might also read:

  • I am a Booger…Treat Me with Respect by Cook
  • Germs Are Not for Sharing by Verdick
  • Germs Make Me Sick by Berger

I hope this helps!

Sincerely,
Dr. Rene

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for your suggestions. We have a son (9 yrs old) that picks his nose at night so much that there is blood all over the sheets & carpet, repeatedly. Does that cross the line to where he might need a doctor’s visit over it? I certainly will try your suggestions.

  2. Hi Natalie, Yes, both for the force of habit and the blood. I would also be sure to keep his nails trimmed short (filed) and have him wash hands just before bed each night. It is germs on his fingers mixed with the hurt skin that could give him an infection. Rene

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