Help! My Preschooler Won't Stop Nose Picking!

Yes it's gross, no you don't have to tolerate it

Nose picking in preschoolers is a common habit, but not one you have to accept.
Just because nose picking in preschoolers is a common habit, it doesn't mean it's a behavior you have to accept. Thomas Northcut

Question: Help! My Preschooler Won't Stop Nose Picking!

I'm trying not to be too embarrassed because I'm pretty sure this is a common problem for families with kids of all ages, but I'm still pretty grossed out by it all.

My 4-year-old daughter won't stop nose picking. She does it all the time. Sometimes she eats it. (UGH!) I've tried talking to her about it, handing her a tissue, I've yelled, but it doesn't matter. She still continues to pick her nose anywhere and everywhere. School, the car, at the store -- she has no shame! I need to stop this behavior fast. What should I do? Please HELP!


Ah, preschoolers, they engage in the most charming behaviors, sometimes don't they? (Too bad this particular one isn't limited to kids under five -- yikes!)

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

  • There is an excess of mucus in the child's nose, it feels funny and she wants to take it out, or, oppositely,
  • your child's nose is very dry and feels funny.
  • Force of habit
  • Nerves
  • Boredom
  • She doesn't even realize she is doing it

No matter which category your child falls in, nose picking is something that needs to be stopped, and quickly. As you mentioned, it's embarrassing and socially unacceptable, but it also spreads germs and can cause an infection in your child's nose. Also, if the child is allowed to continually engage in this behavior, it is a habit that she will likely (unfortunately) continue to do as she gets older. 

Here are some ways to get her to stop picking her nose:

Address the problem. Often. As soon as you have seen your child start to pick her nose, call your daughter's attention to what she is doing, hand her a tissue and ask her to stop. Repeat as necessary. If nose picking is a new habit, it's possible that there is something in her nose, like excess mucus, that is annoying her. If this is something she's been doing for a while, she may not even realize when she does it. Keep calling her attention to it and make her wash her hands after she stops. Explain that nose picking is not a clean habit and can not only cause her nose to be infected, it can spread germs and make 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 she is doing it unconsciously. Explain why you are putting the bandage there, so she connects the bandage to not picking her nose. 

Give her something else to do. Believe it or not, your child's nose picking could stem from boredom or may just fulfill a need to keep busy. Does she watch a lot of television or sit passively? Engage her in other activities. If her hands are occupied, they are less likely to wind up in her nose.

Ask for help. It's unlikely that a simple case of a child picking her 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). If your child is stressed, nose picking could mean your child has something else going on, so a call to the pediatrician might be worthwhile.

Ignore it. Probably not the answer you want to hear, but if you've tried everything to no avail, letting her be (provided her nails are short and not sharp) may be all you can do for a while.

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