While less common, there are reported cases of compulsive skin picking disorder in children. However, with limited research and assessment methods, appropriate diagnosis and treatment usually do not occur until adolescence.
There is little research on body-focused repetitive behaviors in children, but that does not mean compulsive skin picking never occurs in children. Most research uses adult participants for convenience. Research with children often relies on parent report, which does not always provide the most reliable data.
Another reason for the absence of research is that there are few evidence-based assessments available for use with children. One study cited data that 10-4% of children picked at their skin or their noses, but whether that was to the level of disorder is unknown. That same study found that no evidence-based assessments existed to assess for compulsive skin picking in children.
Because children often engage in behaviors for which they cannot verbalize a reason or cause, picking behaviors may or may not be pathological. Similar to adolescents and adults, look for signs of disordered picking:
- A lot of time is spent picking, including the choice to pick instead of engaging in other activities.
- Picking behaviors result in physical damage to the skin.
- Despite the physical damage, the child continues to pick.
At young ages, children’s picking behavior may also be related to tic disorders. Tic disorders are characterized by recurrent motor movements and tic behaviors vary. Sometimes urges precede tics, but often they have no psychological component.
Addressing Skin Picking in Children
One of the first steps for treating skin picking in children is to rule out the possibility of a physical cause for the picking behaviors. Physical causes could include skin conditions, allergies or hormone issues. If the cause of the picking is physical, with treatment, the picking behaviors will go away. A physician and dermatologist who specializes in pediatrics can determine the existence of a physical cause. A pediatric neurologist may be appropriate to rule out tic disorders. Any physiological or pharmaceutical treatments should be formulated for children. Also, carefully observe side effects as some medications can cause skin picking.
The second step is to enlist the help of a mental health professional who specializes in working with children. They will help determine if there are psychological or behavioral issues to address to redirect and manage picking behaviors.
Some children go through phases of abnormal behaviors which go away with time or as they reach the next developmental stage. However, your child’s picking behaviors persist or increase in severity, seek treatment.