Did You Pick A Winner?

An old children’s saying goes, “You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose,” followed, of course, by peals of laughter. Ever hear that one? If you haven’t yet, you probably will because kids and nose-picking seem to go hand-in-hand.

It’s a nasty habit which, if not broken, can persist and cause some heavy social problems for your child. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone you know how they feel when they catch someone with their finger up their nose. Most likely they will make a face and emphatically say “disgusted!” This is one of those behaviors that is pretty much taboo across the board.

Kids who catch the habit can easily end up social parriahs and find themselves the butt of jokes and minus an invitation to the Saturday morning play group. And just think for a minute about where that little one’s finger has been between the time he diligently sang Happy Birthday three times while washing his hands and then sent it flying up his nostril.

Maybe in the kitty litter while you weren’t looking? Climbing up the slide or playing with all the toys in the pediatrician’s office while waiting for his flu shot? Just imagine all those nasty little microscopic germs being given a first-class, direct flight directly into the body.

Little nose pickers can develop nasal infections and chronic nosebleeds, too. But we probably don’t have to work too hard here to convince you that this is not something you want to encourage. More likely you’re wondering how you can stop it.

So what can you do? There are two schools of thought on this one. Some parents and professionals will encourage you to ignore it, and reassure you that it will go away. I’m not so sure. I’m more in the other camp so that’s where I’m headed with this piece, because habits, once formed, are tough to break.

Kids pick their noses for a variety of reasons when they are young and I believe it’s a good idea to draw their attention to what they are doing. Mindfulness begins early, although you can’t expect them to remember all the time. That’s what you’re for.

Some kids are bothered by the buildup of mucus in their noses and don’t like the hard, crusty feel that can develop. Other children pick their noses out of boredom and some use it as a self-soothing mechanism. Some children who have allegies have more than their fair share of nasal mucus and want it out!

A  good strategy is to be aware yourself of the state of your child’s nose. If he has a cold or suffers with chronic allergies, make sure you have plenty of tissues on hand. When he starts rubbing or sniffling a lot ask him, “Do you need to blow?” or “Do you need a tissue?” at the exact moment that you pull it out of the box. Then help him blow or let him try himself (depending on his age).

If you catch him picking his nose you can say, “Andy, if you need to pick your nose, let me get you some tissue and you can do it in private.” The idea is not that nose picking is bad, it’s just one more of those things that should be done in private. No shaming, just teaching.

Now if your little one has gone that one step further and begun to actually eat her boogers don’t panic, it’s pretty common. But let’s face it, this is not exactly an attractive behavior and years later she will thank you for dealing with it head on, when she was young. It’s a pretty easy fix if you are consistent. Just say, “No, no that’s yucky. Here, lets blow,” and help her blow her nose. Again, no shaming. A simple shake of your head along with a sour look on your face is enough.

At the end of the day, this is not one of those things to lose sleep over. Life is for learning and this is just one very small lesson in it, right?

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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