How can I stop my 7 yo daughter from picking her scabs?
February 26, 2011 8:45 AM   Subscribe

How can I stop my 7 yo daughter from picking her scabs?

My 7 yo (1st grade) daughter cannot seem to stop picking her scabs. She currently has 3 wounds on her face that have been there for over 2 months and a growing collection on her body. The wounds are typical 7 yo ouchies but because she picks the scabs they just never go away. She ends up getting blood on her clothes and sheets. For the last few weeks we have required that she wear bandaids on her face at all time but those end up getting picked off eventually either during school or at night and then the scabs get picked. One wound was diagnosed as possible impetigo, so we now have an anitibiotic cream we use.

She is very bright and well behaved. We have talked with her about the possibility of scars, about infection, and about not wanting to be constantly walking around school with open wounds and blood on her clothes, but so far to no effect. We are interested in any advice and tips that can help solve this problem and prevent any future problems as well.
posted by Tallguy to Health & Fitness (28 answers total)
Have you tried punishing her when she picks them? Start with small punishments and get bigger.
posted by oddman at 8:53 AM on February 26, 2011

What does she say when you discuss this with her?

Have you tried offering a substitute activity? Take her to a craft store, get some polymer clay or some such, something she can use to fiddle with when she's got an itch to pick? No picking = new colours of clay?

I would be wary of excess attention to this -- certainly do not punish and turn it into a power struggle; that's dreadful advice. Make sure there are no underlying problems, no unmet needs for attention. But I would bet the simple answer is that it's fun, in which case: try to gently bribe her out of the habit with some sort of substitute activity. Find something more fun.
posted by kmennie at 9:00 AM on February 26, 2011

You might try putting some liquid bandage over them. Be forewarned - it burns like hell when you put it on, but it's basically a kind of glue that covers the wound and would probably be more enduring than traditional band-aids. That, coupled with weaning/distraction methods should be enough to break the habit.
posted by msbutah at 9:01 AM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: There's a website and forum about this: Stop Picking on Me! I'm not a doctor/psychiatrist, but what your daughter's doing sounds like it may be compulsive skin picking. I've been a compulsive picker all my life—like from an extremely early age, 'cause my parents have told me they could sort of "measure" the growth of my head by where on my scalp the catheter scab I wouldn't stop picking at was.

Have you tried punishing her when she picks them? Start with small punishments and get bigger.

I can tell you, even having to go to school with antibiotic ointment in my hair in second grade didn't stop me from picking; nor did forcing me to go to school with my hair in a ponytail in third grade. The stress of punishment may just make things worse. If your daughter's like me, it's an OCD-like compulsion, and it's something that she probably doesn't think about as she's doing it; a lot of pickers just do it completely absentmindedly, and only notice it when someone else points it out. Then they may get embarrassed...but they still probably won't stop. A lot of times, picking is tied to stress (and later on, to hormones)—my picking got particularly bad in college.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy—not even necessarily through a therapist, but through self-training and feedback—can help with this.
posted by limeonaire at 9:02 AM on February 26, 2011 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Is she aware when she is doing it? I say this as I had a child that would suck his thumb and not realize he was doing it. In fact, he helped us help him stop sucking his thumb. Maybe how we did it will work for you.

Is she primarily doing it at night or at home? When my child would come home from school, he would change immediately into an oversized long sleeve shirt, in which the sleeves were sewn closed. This was enough to not make the thumbs automatically accessible, and it worked! It took a few weeks, but even he was proud!

If you did something similar for your daughter, it may help. Have her wear the shirt over her clothes while at home. She may even be able to help decorate or pick it out. You want the shirt so big that her arms are comfortable since you will have to sew the ends of the sleeves closed so her hands don't poke out.

Good luck!
posted by 6:1 at 9:03 AM on February 26, 2011

How about rewards for keeping the band-aids on? Maybe mild disappointment when the band-aids come off?
posted by CarlRossi at 9:03 AM on February 26, 2011

My son is a picker but it's gotten better since he started his ADHD meds a few months ago. Maybe at her next check up you should mention it to her doctor.

We would just replace the band-aids as often as necessary, sometimes 4-5 times a day. I found that the clear waterproof ones stayed on better than the 'flesh' colored ones. Might be worth a try.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:06 AM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: Cut her fingernails short. As short as possible. File them so there's no sharp edges. Remove the best tool she has to pick with from the equation. (That's what my dad did with me--I used to pick my scabs a lot too. I'm pretty scar-free, though; YMMV.)

Maybe even take her to get a real-life manicure and encourage her to not "mess it up" by using her fingernails to pick at things.

And agreeing with whomever above said she might not realize she's doing it. Sometimes even now as an adult I'll wake up with some gross picked-at sore that I've done entirely in my sleep. They sell sleeping mittens for this, but your daughter might be too old to leave them on all night.
posted by phunniemee at 9:07 AM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: Can she articulate why she picks at her scabs? Is it a way for her to cope with anxiety over something? I pick at my cuticles when I'm really nervous about something, but I'll admit I haven't found a way to completely break this habit for myself yet. I'm trying to find some kind of worry rock or other small object I can keep in my pocket to focus on and fiddle with when I get nervous energy.

You want something she can redirect that energy towards that's small enough she can keep on her all the time. One thing that worked for me for awhile was a necklace with some kind of charm on it. I spun the charm around, fingered the different textures on it, and twisted the chain around my fingers. A necklace might be close enough to her face that she can still have the feeling of her hand up near her face, but she won't actually be picking at the skin. I had to give the necklace habit up because it looked weird during public speaking, but that wouldn't be an issue for your daughter so I'd try it.
posted by lilac girl at 9:08 AM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: Came to post what lilac girl did, basically. I am a born fidgeter. As a kid, I constantly dicked around with a necklace or my rings, and I will do it to this day if I'm wearing jewelry. I suggest you give your daughter a little bracelet or necklace that's irresistible to play with -- not for any occasion, and certainly not mentioning this matter. It won't be the only thing that breaks this habit, but it could be a huge help.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:13 AM on February 26, 2011

Response by poster: We have tried liquid bandaid. But she would pick it off and then the scab.

As far as what she says, she really doesn't want to talk about it so we don't get a lot of straight answers. And this is from a girl who is fairly self-aware for a 7 yo. I am pretty sure she is a little embarrassed when it is brought up. On days where she is really busy she doesn't pick but when she is more idle (at school, watching TV) she tends to pick. She came home sick this week and every time I saw her without bandaids I insisted she pit them back on. We went through 5-6 bandaid changes in as many hours.

Both me and my wife are fidgety so maybe we need to find a worry bracelet or tell her she should play with her new earrings or something similar. I like the notion that she may not even be aware of it, and I like the advice to have her fingernails really short.

Please keep the advice coming. This has been going on for almost 3 months now and so much of what we have tried has not worked.
posted by Tallguy at 9:14 AM on February 26, 2011

Response by poster: And limeonaire, that website looks really helpful!
posted by Tallguy at 9:17 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe even take her to get a real-life manicure and encourage her to not "mess it up" by using her fingernails to pick at things.

One thing that worked for me for awhile was a necklace with some kind of charm on it. I spun the charm around, fingered the different textures on it, and twisted the chain around my fingers.

These are both good answers. For me, having a necklace on means I finger that unconsciously, make sure the clasp is up, etc., instead of picking.

Another thing that really makes a difference for me in terms of not touching/picking at my face is wearing makeup. If the makeup's on, I generally won't mess with my skin very much. Your daughter's way too young for that, but maybe if by other means you can get her to stop picking at her face long enough to get the current scabs to heal, maybe you can get her a kids' makeup set to play with (though of course this could backfire if it causes her to break out—you might look into finding a really high-quality kids' makeup set) so she can see how nice it is to have clear, beautiful skin as a palette.

Alternately, you could hang out with her and do a mini "spa day" with clay or other types of masks. Some of the masks peel off when they dry, and I can imagine that might be fun for her to pick away at, in the same kind of way that picking glue off one's fingers can be. Though this, too, could backfire—if you do this, you should be careful to test it on her arm or wrist first, to make sure she won't break out from it, and then also make sure you get all of the mask material off her face at the end.
posted by limeonaire at 9:17 AM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: This is me, for as long as I can remember. I'm almost 33, and it still hasn't stopped, although I think it's getting better as I get (really) older. My parents tried everything, and I mean everything. It's really bad with my nails for example, and it got to the point where my parents were bribing me with offering to pay my car insurance @16,17,28, etc, and I still couldn't stop.

About the only thing that works is vanity, but even then, it's got be to severe. My hands are a mess, for example, but i still do it. But I will do everything in my power not to pick at a huge zit on my face. Doesn't mean I'm always successful though - the urge to pop that sucker is sometime just too strong. For things like scabs, it becomes a nervous habit, something that's not even a conscious decision, it just happens. I have a ginormous scar on my knee from a mosquito bite that lasted months if not years when I was your daughters age.

So, I don't have any advice really, except not to blame your daughter for it, and be careful with 'punishment', because it's not like she's misbehaving. I'd go the route of positive reinforcement, "your arms look so good today - you obviously didn't pick at them! Good Job!" and maybe even bribe her a bit (ice cream if you can leave the scabs alone all day). Maybe you'll have better luck than my parents did... Also, maybe give her a rubber band or something around her wrist she can fiddle with it, and if you catch her picking, don't nag (please don't nag!), but just point out what shes doing and suggest she fiddle with the elastic instead. The idea is that the rubber band becomes the habit instead of the mindless picking.

Good luck!
posted by cgg at 10:29 AM on February 26, 2011

Hah @ 16, 17, 28 - not 28. 18. My parents had long given up by 28!
posted by cgg at 10:32 AM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: I'm a picker, too. It really ramped up when I hit puberty & started picking at ingrown hairs on my legs - to this day I have a smattering of scars all over me; let's not getting into acne scars.

I think it might be a good idea to explain to your daughter about bad habits, and why it's important to break them and start good habits early on (and how this is related to her scab picking, of course.) Then provide her with some fidgets.

I have a few different ones, when I catch myself picking at my face or wherever absent-mindedly, that I can consciously redirect my attention to. These days I wear hard-wearing pendant necklaces on longish chains, have my glasses to clean/fiddle with, and paint my nails many different colors & patterns, which is a whole other ritual/busywork thing that keeps me from ripping off my nails - instead of cutting them to the quick, I scrape off the polish as a fidget. When I was in grade school I had a variety of worry-rocks, that I had rubbed shiny with my ministrations over the years. Jade was especially nice - it held the warmth of my hands and came in lovely colors. Just some ideas, since you say your family is full of fidgeters.

Picking can really contribute to a poor self-image and of course, invite infection and all sorts of gross things. I don't know if punishing her is the right way to go about it - I was never punished and it didn't help me, but I was so contrary that had I been punished for it I may have picked even more in retaliation. But since you say she's a self-aware kid, help her become more self-aware and take control of her own body through this.
posted by Mizu at 11:11 AM on February 26, 2011

I love the idea of painting her nails and letting her pick at the polish. It's a good replacement behavior that might buy you some time to let the scabs heal and break the cycle of itchy scab -->picking -->bleeding -->semi-healed scab -->itchy scab -->etc.

She can move from there to playing with a necklace, etc. Fiddling with jewelery is a totally appropriate behavior for a 7-year-old, provided that it's not interfering with her work at school or her ability to play.

If she seems like she needs to have something to do with her hands during t.v. time, finger knitting is simple and fun and has been a big hit with the elementary school girls I've worked with.
posted by corey flood at 11:24 AM on February 26, 2011

every time she you notice her doing it ask her to wash her hands. She might tire of either activity, but at least her fingers will be clean when she picks, thus reducing the chance of infection.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:40 AM on February 26, 2011

I love the idea of painting her nails and letting her pick at the polish. It's a good replacement behavior that might buy you some time to let the scabs heal and break the cycle of itchy scab -->picking -->bleeding -->semi-healed scab -->itchy scab -->etc.

Picking off nail polish is also a great distracting device for me. They even make cool ones that are designed to peel off. When I need to give my cuticles time to heal I put on some nail polish to distract me for a few days.
posted by lilac girl at 12:02 PM on February 26, 2011

I can relate to your daughter! Get her help for this quickly. I was the same way all my childhood. If there was a scab, I was gonna pick it and pick it and pick it etc etc.

Now I'm a 27 year old woman who still picks scabs, bites my nails and tears apart the inside of her mouth. I bite the inside of my mouth constantly. I bite it till it leaves a canker sore or I take it to far (I've bitten through a nerve in my lip once). So get her help, figure out why she's doing this and take care of it!
posted by Sweetmag at 12:44 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Please, please, please don't scold or punish her for being unable to stop picking. Chances are the more you make a big deal about it, she may eventually try to hide it out of embarrassment. I'm also one of those pickers and my mother harassed me constantly which only made me pick more and feel even worse about myself. Fidget toys like kooshes are good for stress relief and the more you can encourage her to redirect the need to pick, the better. Nthing the suggestion to talk to her pediatrician about it.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 2:33 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was bad about this. I think it's when the scab dries and starts to pull up that bothers me. It helps to put on anti-biotic ointment under a band aid so the scab stays soft until it heals.

As a kid, I'd skin my knees and shins and have a perpetual scab for the summer. I didn't realize how much longer it took to heal from tearing the old scab off because I'd always skin it again by the time the old one healed. Does your kid understand that every time she tears the scab off, the wound has to start over somewhat with healing? Maybe try explaining and ask her for ideas to help distract her like the polish or a charm bracelet. This is a bit like trying not to scratch when you have an itch. If you can focus on something else it helps.
posted by stray thoughts at 2:59 PM on February 26, 2011

Response by poster: I love the comments. Mrs. Tallguy and I talked to the daughter today. She is embarrassed, but as many of you mentioned above, she was barely even aware she was doing it. I wouldn't have even known to have asked that question. Just asking it seemed to make it easier for her to talk about it since we seemed to "get it." Before whenever we talked we got lots of nervous evasions and efforts to quickly change the topic. Now that she was engaged in the conversation we talked with her about maybe trying to choose a different things to fidget with, like a bracelet or hair, as some of you have suggested.

A few of you have advocated not trying to make too big of a deal of it. That was our first approach but nothing was improving and the number of open sores was increasing each week. Both me and my wife have nervous tics and I am hoping we can simply encourage my daughter to move on to a less invasive one. I appreciate the advice.
posted by Tallguy at 4:16 PM on February 26, 2011

i am also a picker, and i always have been. i also twirl my hair. please don't punish your daughter for picking. i worry that asking her to wash her hands each time would simply change the compulsive behavior to hand-washing.
posted by woodvine at 4:39 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think that diversion is a good idea (but note that IANAD, etc). Our daughter chews her nails, but we keep a pack of bubble gum handy and so whenever I see her hands creeping up to her mouth, I pop in another stick of gum until her mouth is so full that she can't even put her fingernails in there. The chewing and smacking and popping is pretty annoying, but not as annoying as the bloody fingerprints all over the car.
posted by math at 4:40 PM on February 26, 2011

My friend's son is a picker, too. He had to be in the hospital for an additional two weeks recently because he had just undergone spinal surgery, picked the scab open (it only took him about an hour, while his mother was asleep next to him), leaked spinal fluid, and had to go back to surgery to fix it. And then they had to tape him up like he had broken ribs to keep him from doing it again. It's a complusion for him, which it may not be for your daughter. It sounds like it's not because she doesn't realize she's doing it.

You may need to keep her hands really busy until she heals or until she recognizes that she's picking. Good luck!
posted by cooker girl at 5:13 AM on February 28, 2011

Running around and exercise lessen the need for fidgeting and picking.
posted by serena15221 at 9:51 PM on February 28, 2011

Response by poster: I wanted to finish up this thread with a thanks to all of you. Talking with her and giving her alternatives definitely helped in this case. After our conversations she went a few days without picking, then "relapsed", but has not picked her face scabs now for a few weeks.
posted by Tallguy at 12:33 PM on March 28, 2011

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