our everyday life

How to Stop Toddlers From Picking at Their Faces

by Jon Mohrman

Watching your toddler repeatedly pick at her face can become maddening after a while. While it's socially unacceptable and can result in an infection or even a scar, explaining this to a toddler isn't likely to make an impression. While skin picking sometimes stems from an OCD-spectrum disorder called dermatillomania, as noted by the BrainPhysics.com website, it's usually just a benign interest in something new and a passing phase for a toddler. Discipline isn't a good way to address this sort of problem, since you can't watch your child every minute to consistently enforce a no-picking rule -- and she's likely to just pick when she's out of your sight to avoid consequences.

Care for any minor injuries on your toddler's face to help them heal as efficiently as possible, since the presence of something abnormal tends to grab a child's interest. Wash the injuries with a gentle soap and warm water without scrubbing. Dry them completely and apply a small dab of antibacterial ointment. Reapply once or twice per day until there are no open wounds.

Cover an injury with an adhesive bandage until it closes up completely if your toddler keeps picking at it. Use a bandage that's your child's favorite color or decorated with some of her favorite characters to encourage her to leave it on longer.

Distract your toddler from picking when you see her start. Read her a story, give her a coloring book and some crayons, give her a toy to which she doesn't always have access, play a game or otherwise draw her attention away from whatever is beckoning her little fingers to her face.

Make a chart to reward your toddler for not picking to use a positive reinforcement strategy, according to Roy Benaroch, M.D. in a "Pediatric Insider" article. Draw columns for each day of the week on a piece of paper and explain to your child that every day you don't see her pick at her face, she'll get a sticker. Tell her she gets a small reward for each sticker and a more substantial one after three.

Items you will need
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Adhesive bandage
  • Books, toys, or other distractions
  • Pen and paper
  • Stickers

Tip

  • Don't worry too much about scarring. While picking at scabs and wounds might lead to dark spots that take a while to completely fade away, it rarely results in permanent marks.

About the Author

Jon Mohrman has been a writer and editor for more than seven years. He specializes in food, travel and health topics. He attended the University of Pittsburgh for English literature and San Francisco State University for creative writing.

Photo Credits

  • Photos.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images