Nose Picking

Help! I have a really embarrassing situation with my 5 1/2 year old son. I don’t want to admit it but my son picks his nose and will even eat it! This has been going on since he was 2 1/2 years old. My husband and I try to talk to him about how its not appropriate in public (yes he does it in PUBLIC!). We tell him to grab a tissue or go to the bathroom in privacy. He tells us he can’t stop because his “brain” tells him to do it. His 3 year old sister even tells him to stop and says “That’s disgusting”. He also sucks two fingers and bites his nails to the point they bleed. What can we do to help him stop and help me from always being worried about going in public with him?


Dear Parent,

There is nothing to be embarrassed about because your child is acting in a natural and healthy way. It is only in recent history that humans have developed such sterile and strict social codes. Your son is acting instinctively. In fact, if you google the subject you would find much conversation about nose digging and, you will be amazed to find that it may be even healthy.   

Here are a couple of articles about this subject:

Regardless of whether or not it is healthy, it is for sure harmless and need not cause stress for you or shame for your child. What is harmful is the bad feeling your son feels when you ask him to stop and he can’t. He is failing to please you and to get our unconditional approval. There is nothing he can do about it. It is in the genes. My advice therefore is to let him be. 

It is also important for you to know that compulsive behavior like nail-biting can be the result of anxiety and fears. Your son does not need another reason to feel anxious. The thought, “Mommy thinks what I do is disgusting” is adding to his anxiety and to a sense that he is not worthy in your eyes. This can be painful and the cause of the nail biting.

Let the nose digging be. Let him know that you changed your mind and that you learned that it is fine and healthy and that he should dig and eat it as much as he wants. He is going to continue anyway, it would be much better if he can do so without feeling shame and guilt. You can even apologize for bugging him about it because he was right all along and it is his autonomous right to do as he pleases with his own body. 

After a while, when your child seems calm and digging freely, you may add that in our society people dig in their nose in private. Let him know that as he grows older he will need to take the way people feel into consideration. He can then dig in his nose as much as he wants at home, but once in public, he should refrain from doing so. You can tell him that if he must dig when in public, to ask you and you will take him aside or into the car where he can take care of himself. It is not your job to protect society from your child. Be on his side. Protect his dignity.

When feeling loved and approved by you exactly the way he is, it will be easy for him to refrain from this behavior in public. If not, some day someone else will tell him to stop and he will respond with ease because it won’t come from his own mother or father whose love and support he depends on.

Warmly,  Naomi Aldort,


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