How to Stop Nose Picking in Preschoolers

Kids do the grossest things. Here's how to break the habit

Little kids can do some pretty gross things, including picking their noses and sometimes eating what they dig out. In addition to being socially unacceptable, nose picking spreads germs.

A 2018 study published in the European Respiratory Journal found that nose picking can spread the bacteria responsible for pneumonia. What's more, nose picking can cause trauma to nasal passages, resulting in nosebleeds, infections, and hard-to-heal sores.

If nose picking isn't nipped in the bud in preschool, it may become a hard-to-break habit as she gets older. 

Why Kids Pick Their Noses

Nose picking is a pretty normal preschool habit and there are a few reasons why little ones engage in it:

  • Their nose feels funny due to an excess of moist or dry nasal mucus that they want to get out
  • Nervous habit
  • Stress
  • Boredom

No matter which category your child falls in, nose picking is something that needs to be stopped.

How To Stop Your Child From Nose Picking

As soon as you see your child start to pick their nose, call their attention to it, hand your child a tissue, and remind them to stop. Repeat as necessary. If nose picking is a new habit, it's possible that there is something in their nose, like excess mucus, that is annoying them.

Discuss Hygiene Concerns

Some children do not even realize they are picking their nose and it becomes an absent-minded habit. Keep calling your child's attention to it and make them wash their hands after they stop. 

Explain that nose picking is not a clean habit and can not only cause their nose to be infected, it can spread also germs and make them or other people sick.

Enlist in Aids

There are plenty of products on the market designed to get a child to stop nose picking, but even the simple act of putting an adhesive bandage on your child's finger might do the trick, especially if they're doing it subconsciously. Explain why you are putting the bandage there, so they connect the bandage to not picking their nose. 

Give Them Something Else To Do

Your child's nose picking could stem from boredom or may just fulfill a need to keep busy. If she watches a lot of television or sits passively, try to engage them in other activities. Busy hands are less likely to wind up in their nose.

Ask For Help

It's unlikely that a simple case of a child picking their nose is anything serious, but on rare occasions, it can be, particularly if the behavior comes on suddenly and is coupled with something else (like bedwetting, for example).

Nose picking could mean your child has something else going on. Compulsive nose picking, or rhinotillexomania, can be triggered by stress. If you suspect your child is struggling beyond age-appropriate nose picking, a call to the pediatrician might be worthwhile.

Ignore It

If you've tried everything to stop nose picking, to no avail, letting them be may be all you can do for a while. Make sure they wash their hands frequently, and keep their nails short and not sharp.

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  1. Connor V, German E, Pojar S, et al. Hands are vehicles for transmission of Streptococcus pneumoniae in novel controlled human infection study. Eur Respir J. 2018;52(4):1800599. doi:10.1183/13993003.00599-2018

  2. Jefferson JW, Thompson TD. Rhinotillexomania: Psychiatric Disorder or Habit? J Clin Psychiatry. 1995;56(2):56-59.