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Nose Picking--Yuck!: Good Enough Moms

Q: I am a single mom of three children ranging in age from 3 to 8. My middle son, a five year-old, is constantly picking his nose. My ex-husband and his family make jokes about it - they see no problem with this behavior. I however disagree and do not want my son to start kindergarten as a nose picker!! I am up against a huge challenge: 1) convincing my son that this is gross; and 2) convincing my ex-husband to help me work with my son on this. We generally have a good relationship and I know this seems like an insignificant issue, but I am worried that my son will be teased or disliked by his teacher if he is always picking his nose. Please let me know what we can do about this!

Erin: This is a sticky situation - in more ways than one! Many children pick their noses (as do many adults). I am thinking of all the drivers I see on the road, picking away as if no one can see them. This not only is a gross habit, but also unhealthy. Bacteria and viruses can live in our noses and when we pick our noses we are transferring those viruses and bacteria to our hands. Then we can transmit them to other people. On the flip side, by putting his finger in his nose, your son may be introducing bacteria and viruses from his fingers into his nose. And if he is a heavy picker, he may have small cuts in his nose, into which he is introducing these bacteria and viruses. (Of course there are many other ways to pick up viruses and bacteria, so stopping the picking won't prevent him from getting sick.) I think it would be a good idea to explain to him (in very simple terms) the health risks of picking his nose.

Grandma Betty: I think Erin's right - it is gross. You're going to have to work on your ex-husband and tell him it's harmful to laugh about this and let it go on. It could ruin your son's life when he goes to school if he isn't taught that nose-picking isn't proper. The kids will make fun of him and call him names. And the teacher will think he wasn't raised properly. So you're right that something should be done about this.

Marti: I agree that nose-picking is gross, but there's a risk in making too big a deal of it. And Mom (Grandma Betty), with all due respect, I doubt if this boy's life will be ruined if he continues to pick his nose! If kids tease him, he'll probably quit. But for now, I think this little boy may be getting a lot of reinforcement for this behavior by seeing that it's getting his mom and dad into a battle. Ignoring it may be more likely to put an end to it. Or it may help to simply keep tissues nearby, hand him one when he starts to pick and simply say, "When you're with me, you need to use a tissue for that. And then you need to wash your hands to get rid of the germs." If you see him use a tissue without being told, tell him you are pleased that he's learning to be more careful. (The old principle of "catch them being good" is an important one in any area of parenting.)

All: We understand that you are uncomfortable with your son's nose-picking habit and we support you in trying to teach him more socially acceptable (and clean) behavior when he's with you. As for the disagreement about this with your ex-husband and his family, we don't think you should waste too much time trying to change their view. Better to save your energy for more important and serious childrearing issues, which are bound to come up as your kids get older.

Marti Erickson, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist and director of the Harris Training Programs at the University of Minnesota. A well-known public speaker, writer, and media commentator, Marti also is the mother of two adult kids and three young grandchildren.

Erin Erickson Garner, Marti's daughter, is a writer and a specialist in maternal and child health. She currently is home with her two young children except for Sundays, when she and her mom co-host the Good Enough MomsTM radio show on WFMP-Radio, FM107.1 in the Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Betty Farrell, Marti's mom, lives in Houston, TX, and is known fondly as "Grandma Betty" to Erin and her kids.

Categories: Advice, Ideas & Stories, Children, MomShare,

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