How to Stop a Toddler from Picking at Her Face


How do you stop a toddler from picking at her face?

This is my toddler’s worst habit. And she does it at the hardest times to stop – in the car, at bedtime, and generally whenever her overly concerned Mother is not watching. Typical.

She has done it long enough that we are starting to get the, “Aren’t you worried it will scar?” question.

And she keeps foiling my attempts to stop it. So, even a Family Doctor Mom has to reach out to her friends sometimes for support. Here’s what I’m using to stop the picking.


Why Do Toddlers Pick at Their Skin?

If your toddler is a picker, your loved ones (usually the only people close enough to make comments aloud) will automatically go to the worst in my experience. That’s because skin picking is seen more commonly in ADULTS who have drug abuse or mental health disorders.

Obviously, that is not the case in children. Toddlers tend to pick out of:

  • Curiosity – If they have a scab, scrape, or lesion, their little hands just want to explore it.
  • Boredom – Nothing else to do, might as well explore this little body a bit.
  • Frustration – Toddlers can’t explain their emotions and tend to act that out in many different ways. That can include picking.
  • Physical skin lesions – dry skin and eczema are especially irritating to toddlers and more common at this age than older children.

It helps to narrow down the reason your little one is picking before progressing. For example: my little lady picking in the car and at night are more than likely boredom and curiosity. She definitely picks when she is frustrated as well.


Why Stop Pickers?

Parents of pickers worry about scarring. But picking can also lead to secondary skin infections that may require antibiotic treatment. Not to mention the fact that turning around to see a bloody face in the car seat is especially disturbing to any parent. And I’ve been there.

Picking also evokes further picking. The more scabs present, the more spots to draw your toddler’s attention and continue the picking cascade.


how to stop a toddler from picking her face
Cutest little picker around …

How To Stop a Toddler from Picking at Her Face

You can get your toddler to stop picking but you will need a plan:

  1. Determine the cause of your toddler’s picking – if your child is picking at the same times or in the same situations, preparation is on your side. For us, picking in the car and at night are times that we can prepare for. Frustration is a little trickier.
  2. Determine if there is a medical cause for picking – Is there a rash, dry skin, or growth that your child is picking at? If so, head to the Doctor for an evaluation and treatment.
  3. Protect the skin through clothing – The two best options for this include gloves or long tube socks. My daughter routinely pulled her gloves off so we found some cute long tube socks. Put them on at times of picking. For us, that’s mostly at night and in the car.
  4. Protect the skin through lubrication – Plain unscented vaseline has the least potential for any allergies. It is a lot harder to cause tears in skin that is lubricated. Of course, it has to be applied frequently. Get lots of little containers and stash them everywhere.
  5. Cut those nails – Make sure that long, jagged, or pointed nails aren’t contributing to the problem.
  6. Distract – Everything about toddlers is distraction and picking is no different. This is especially true for those littles that pick when bored. For my daughter, we try to keep her hands busy in the car with little toys to prevent picking.


So, When Should You Head to the Doctor?

Medical attention from picking may be necessary in a few situations:

  1. If an underlying skin cause is in question – If you see a rash, thick skin, dry skin, or itchy skin, you will want discuss with your Doctor potential causes and solution.
  2. If the skin becomes infected because of picking – The bacteria that lives on the skin can spread deeper due to tears in the skin and cause a local infection. If the skin becomes red, hot, thickened, or pussy, you will need to see your Doctor for treatment.
  3. If the bleeding won’t stop – that would be rare but possible

Simple Solution: A toddler who picks at her face can be tricky. Think about causes, covering the hands, and protecting the skin to improve your results.

For More Posts on All Things Parenting Toddlers, check out:


Dr. Emily VinZant is a Family Physician, Obesity Medicine physician, certified Life and Weight Loss Coach, and busy mom/step-mom to 5. She runs an online weight loss coaching program for Moms at Weight Loss for Modern American Moms. Find out more by starting with her FREE customized diet quiz below.?