How to Treat Skin Picking in Children
Compulsive picking of the skin, known medically as dermatillomania, is a compulsive behavior marked by excessive picking at parts of the body, especially the face, and is a form of self-mutilation. Children who engage in skin picking often suffer from a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to Brain Physics—and treating the condition involves several forms of behavior modification or even medication.
Identify the underlying problem causing the skin picking, if possible. Many children pick at their skin due to boredom, nervousness or anxiety. Treating those problems may help reduce the amount of skin picking 2.
Integrate habit reversal training, a behavior modification technique. This can include teaching the child to close her eyes, take deep breaths and focus on stopping the behavior when she feels the urge to pick.
Give the child an alternative activity to picking that keeps his hands busy—such as playing with a bracelet or ring, knitting, beading or playing with his hair.
Identify with the child all possible triggers to skin picking. Emotions such as fear, nervousness or anticipation can create an unconscious picking habit. Devise a plan of how to deal with the urge to pick the skin in these types of situations. Role play with the child to help her develop a plan for reacting to the emotions by simulating certain situations that would usually cause skin picking.
Talk with a doctor about medication options, such as anti-depressants, to help ease the frequency and urgency of the skin-picking behavior. Use medication as an aide to therapy, not as a permanent solution.
Seek out a qualified and licensed counselor to help treat your child's skin picking disorder. Visit your family doctor or pediatrician and ask for a referral. Take notes at the therapy visits about what you can do at home to help deal with the disorder.
Try giving the child the B-vitamin inositol, which has been shown to reduce compulsive behavior in some people, according to Brain Physics.
- Western Suffolk Psychological Services: Skin Picking & Nail Biting:
- PubMed: The Recognition and Treatment of Pathological Skin Picking
- Craig-müller SA, Reichenberg JS. The Other Itch That Rashes: a Clinical and Therapeutic Approach to Pruritus and Skin Picking Disorders. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2015;15(6):31. doi:10.1007/s11882-015-0532-2
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Revised October 2019.
- Hayes SL, Storch EA, Berlanga L. Skin picking behaviors: An examination of the prevalence and severity in a community sample. J Anxiety Disord. 2009;23(3):314-9. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2009.01.008
- Bjornsson AS, Didie ER, Phillips KA. Body dysmorphic disorder. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2010;12(2):221–232.
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM–5). American Psychiatric Association. 2013.
- Odlaug BL, Hampshire A, Chamberlain SR, Grant JE. Abnormal brain activation in excoriation (skin-picking) disorder: evidence from an executive planning fMRI study. Br J Psychiatry. 2016;208(2):168–174. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.114.155192
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