How to Stop Kids' Nose Picking and Other Yucky 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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