Your child sticks his finger up his nose, picks at boogers and then eats them. You explain to him that he should stop. But as soon as you turn away, his finger is stuck in his nose again. Find out what is going on in your child’s mind and how you can react appropriately here.
It’s not just your child who picks their nose, around 91% of adults have admitted to this habit in surveys. However, this habit is frowned upon in most European and Asian countries. Celebrities or politicians who are secretly photographed picking their nose often find this photo on daily newspapers. Your child may also experience being laughed at by their friends at school or kindergarten when they see them picking their nose.
Why your child picks his or her nose
Most of the time, your child picks his nose to relieve an uncomfortable itch. His body produces nasal secretions, most of which enter the throat through the nasopharyngeal passage. A small amount drains through the nose, and then it can sometimes itch. Allergies can also be a trigger for itching in the nose, as can dry air. Picking your nose is one of the so-called nervous habits, similar to biting your fingernails or sucking your thumb. It helps your child relieve stress or tension. Many children give up this habit on their own as they get older. Children with ADHD are more inclined to pick their nose because it reduces their nervousness.
Picking the nose can easily hurt the nose
In rare cases, picking the nose can cause a nosebleed. In this case, your child has hurt the blood vessels in the nasal septum with their finger or fingernail. If the nose is bleeding, your child should not pick it under any circumstances. The mucous membranes of the nose need rest and should not be stressed for at least two hours. Even though most people have more bacteria in the mucous membranes of their nose than on their finger, your child could transfer bacteria and get an infection by picking their nose. It can also cause the nostrils to dilate.
If your child picks their nose compulsively……
In very rare cases, nose picking is abnormal. If your child picks his or her nose compulsively, this is called rhinotillexomania. The experts then speak of a “behaviour with pathological value”. If your child is not able to carry out his compulsion to pick his nose, he becomes afraid and suffers from extreme tension. If your child picks his or her nose excessively or compulsively, there is a risk that the nasal septum will perforate. Intense nose picking over a long period of time could also lead to evacuation of the ethmoid bone, the bone of the skull at the end of the nasal cavity, similar to a sinus operation. If your child picks his or her nose for more than an hour a day over a long period of time, you should ask your paediatrician or ear, nose and throat specialist for advice in order to look for the causes and to prevent damage to health at an early stage.
How can you react when your child picks his or her nose?
- Stay patient and do not punish your child: Your child is following an impulse to remove something disturbing from its nose. You should not punish them for this. If your child picks his nose because he is nervous, he will be even more stressed if you punish him.
- Talk to your child: Tell your child not to pick their nose and why. Explain to your child that they may be laughed at if they pick their nose and that it is not an action that is done in public.
- Show your child alternatives: Practise with your child how to use a handkerchief. Motivate your child in his or her resolution to break the habit and think together about what could help your child to do so. Maybe a reward?
Help your child to relax: Show your child other ways to relieve stress, such as a relaxation exercise. If he learns to release his tension, he won’t resort to other nervous substitutes like biting his fingernails or sucking his thumb.
- Keep his fingers busy: If your child’s fingers are busy, for example with a squeezable ball or a toy, he will be much less likely to do nervous actions.
- Protect the nasal mucosa: You can wrap a thin cloth around your child’s fingertips. This will reduce the risk of injury to the mucous membranes. You can keep the mucous membranes moist with fresh air or seawater nasal spray. This reduces the tension in the nose and makes it less itchy. You can ask your pharmacist for advice on which nasal sprays are safe for your child’s mucous membranes.
- Make nose picking unattractive: Too much nose picking can cause the nostrils to dilate. Make sure your child understands what this means. There is a special bitter-tasting nail polish for fingernail biting that you can also use for this problem. If your child puts the booger in his mouth, he will taste the bitter taste of the nail polish and may lose interest.
- Hope and ignore: If nothing helps, then you should ignore the habit and hope that your child will eventually stop on their own.