Why Does My Child Pick and Pinch Their Skin?

It may be a Sensory Processing issue. The sensory system feeds information from our environment, via our central nervous system, directly to our brain. The brain then organizes it, sends it back through the nervous system for the use as understanding, adaptation, learning and skill development.

When our nervous system functions well it allows a person to interact with their environment efficiently, developing necessary motor and language skills as well as appropriate social/emotional behavior. When our system is unable to organize the information appropriately, a variety of symptoms can present: motor delays, tactile defensiveness, learning disorders, social or emotional difficulties, speech and language deficits and attention disorders. Many children have atypical sensory processing. They have difficulties with too much or too little sensory inputs.

The act of pinching and picking provides proprioceptive input (deep pressure) and tactile (touch) input to the hand/fingers/skin which can be soothing and regulating for the nervous system. When a child is pinching and/or picking themselves, it can serve as sensory input that they can actually feel. Children who under-register sensory input often require very intense sensory input to experience the sensation. So, pinching and/or picking their own skin may feel good. In turn, they do not realize that others do not experience sensation differently so they may not realize it hurts someone.

Ideas to Help:

  • Encourage the use of a fidget toy as a replacement, preferably one that the child can pinch or pick.
  • Regular use of Theraputty, clay, or Playdoh can help meet this proprioceptive urge.
  • Provide deep pressure touch to the hands and fingers throughout the day.
  • A vibrating toy or handheld massager can be helpful.
  • Encourage other types of heavy/hard work play for the arms and hands.
  • Wheelbarrow walking may be helpful.
  • Encourage push-and-pull type activities and hanging from a trapeze or playground bar.
  • Have your child wear compression clothing or a compression vest.

These activities and suggestions are not a replacement for direct therapy intervention and require adult supervision. Please consult one of our occupational therapists as necessary and for further information. To schedule an appointment, click here.