From thumb-sucking to finger nail biting, children are likely to engage in new behaviors and habits as they grow older. Counted among those possible habits is one that could be significantly more embarrassing for parents to manage: nose picking.
“Children start putting their fingers in their noses as infants,” says Sarah Springer, MD, of Kids Plus Pediatrics in Pittsburgh. “As soon as they have motor control of their fingers, they’ll find holes where their fingers can fit. It’s not a worry—just a normal part of how they explore and learn.”
In order to help your child to stop engaging in the behavior it’s important to understand why they may start the habit in the first place, according to the University of Michigan Health System. Nose picking can be a result of boredom, sleepiness, falling asleep, relaxation or coping. In most instances, nose picking is likely just a phase and the child will eventually outgrow it.
There isn’t much parents can do to stop the behavior of nose picking, as it’s a normal part of being a kid, Dr. Springer says. Parents are advised to ignore the behavior and not show frustration, as this won’t help encourage your child to stop picking their nose. Instead, Dr. Springer says to help your child learn to blow their nose once they are four or five years old and talk to your child about keeping their hands clean to avoid spreading germs.
Take note of the season or climate, too, as dry air or cold can increase the occurrence of nose picking. Parents should use a humidifier in these conditions to help nasal secretions stay moist. Petroleum jelly a few times a day inside the nose can help with irritation and minimize picking.
Once your child enters school it’s inevitable for them to see and pick up bad habits, Dr. Springer said. Nose picking is a common habit, even among adults and as children age most will realize it’s not an acceptable behavior. (Here’s why it’s pretty bad for adults to pick their nose too.)
“Nose picking is a normal part of childhood,” Dr. Springer says. “Most kids will become aware of the social stigma associated with it, and will eventually stop picking, at least in public.”
MORE: Here are the other body parts you must stop picking, plucking, and popping, stat.