If you notice compulsive skin picking in a child, where the child spends excessive time picking or creates visible damage to the skin, your child may have a disorder that compels her to pick. Although this behavior can present challenges, as a parent, you may be able to provide support and encouragement to help your child overcome the urge to pick her skin.
When you notice skin picking behavior in your child, it’s necessary to eliminate possible physical conditions that could cause the behavior, states the Trichotillomania Learning Center. A dermatological disorder or an autoimmune disorder could produce skin picking symptoms, in which case your child would need medical intervention for the disorder. After eliminating a medical disorder, seek therapy to help alleviate the picking behavior. Proceed with the therapy recommended by a professional, ensuring that you support your child’s treatment plan. This might include encouraging alternative coping strategies, minimizing the situations during which the child might pick and possibly medication.
If your child has difficulty controlling the urge to pick in response to specific situations or environments, it may be necessary to reduce these triggers, states Jenna Saul, M.D., with Child and Adolescent Psychology Consulting. Perhaps your child will need encouragement to avoid mirrors because they lead her to pick. Perhaps your child might have success with not picking if she wears gloves or if she covers certain areas of skin with bandages. There may be a specific activity or pastime your child does that leads to picking. If this is the case, encourage your child not to participate in this activity or change it so that it doesn’t lead to picking.
Replacing the picking behavior with something that competes with the behavior may be an effective way to interrupt the compulsion, state the authors of a report titled “Reducing Skin Picking via Competing Activities,” published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. After ascertaining common situations when your child picks, provide him with a small object or manipulative that he can hold in his hand. For example, if your child picks his skin while he’s reading, provide him with a small chunk of modeling clay to manipulate while he reads. Working the modeling clay with his hands can be a distraction away from picking behavior.
A reward system may be effective for interrupting the picking behavior, according to Linda Gourash, M.D., with the Prader-Willi California Foundation. With the focus on healing, tell your child that you are prepared to celebrate his healthier skin by giving him a reward. The reward should be significant enough to capture your child’s interest, yet not so elaborate that it creates undue stress as he tries to earn it. Communicate the requirements for earning the reward -- healing scabs and no new sores for one week, perhaps. Once your child earns the reward once, you may need to award similar rewards weekly to reinforce the behavior. If you find new sores or sores not healing, do not provide the reward for that week.