If you've spent any time around our daughter Eva, you've surely noticed that she is a hard-core devotee of the thumb-suck/hair twirl combo. She can use either hand for either position, moving back and forth as the need strikes. When she was a baby, this was a boon for us: she is a fantastic self-soother and was never interested in a lot of holding or rocking at bedtime. Just coming off of Daniel's baby years, where we spent every naptime and bedtime rocking him into a coma-depth sleep, we never made any attempt to discourage her habit.
Until recently. Recently we learned that Eva's talent does not, in fact, stop at being able to suck and twirl ambidextrously. No, she is also able to use the remaining fingers of whichever hand she is thumb-sucking to pick at her face, usually around her nose and cheeks. She is additionally able, somehow, to put the unused fingers on her hair-twirling hand to good use scratching and picking at her scalp, all while creating massive, twirled-up, knotty tangles in her hair. Sound like a mess? It is. I'm almost afraid to go in to her room some mornings and see what she's done to herself. For the past several months, she's been walking around with a permanent sore on each cheek, as well as scabs in her scalp made especially visible by her broken-off, thinning hair.
At first, I tried to treat the symptoms. I bought several kinds of children's "tangle-free" shampoo/conditioner combos, as well as some leave-in spray conditioner. I cut Eva's nails so short there was no white showing at all anywhere. We also tried placing band-aids over her cheeks while her sores healed for a few days, in the hopes that the absence of scabs would make the picking less desirable. But really, no amount of conditioner totally prevents tangles, and the constant pulling of the twirling ultimately results in some hair loss whether there are tangles or not. Staying on top of the nail trimming is difficult, and there is a fine line between short and too-short, which I surely accidentally crossed a couple of times. And the worst parent-intervention-fail of this whole story is the time I put an off-brand bandage on one cheek, then pulled it off to reveal at least half a dozen new sores where the glue had irritated her skin overnight.
This, then, was the final straw for Kyle. He decided to move forward with his plan to correct the problem at its source: Princess Gloves. We found some purple mittens with little pink bows on them, and talked them up like they were REALLY something special that she could ONLY wear at night. And this worked the first night; I think the novelty and all the princess flattery was enough to carry her through. The next several naps didn't happen, though, and bedtimes have started becoming more and more difficult. The funny thing is that for the first few days I don't think she put two and two together and realized that the reason she'd been having so much trouble falling asleep was the absence of her favorite activities. A few days in, though, I was there to see the light bulb go on. I was putting her down for a nap and she said, "I can't suck my thumb and twirl my hair with the Princess Gloves on..." and then her face lit up like she'd had one of Oprah's "ah-ha" moments. "I need these off!" she said, pulling at them frantically. I explained to her that we actually would prefer she not twirl her hair and suck her thumb (and pick her face), and want her to wear the mittens to help her remember that. Luckily she relented and has continued to do so despite her nightly pleas and protests to sleep without them.
The other funny thing about it is that the instant the gloves come off in the morning or after naptime she is like an addict jonesing for a fix, sucking and twirling with ferocious gusto. At this point we are not making an issue out of her daytime habit, which is for now fairly minimal and much less destructive, but I know we will have to address it one day.
In a twist of cruel irony, Daniel woke me up last night, screaming "Help! Help!" from the bathroom at 1:30 in the morning. It seems he'd been picking his nose in bed and had caused some bleeding... and by "some bleeding" I mean that when I opened the door to the bathroom it looked like someone had been stabbed in there. This was quite a nosebleed, and by the time I got the floors, toilet, sink, walls, and both of us cleaned up I was ready to go shopping for some Dragon Mittens for Daniel. It seems that as soon as we get one kid to stop picking (Eva's face HAS cleared up a bit in the last week) another one starts. Everyone keep your fingers crossed (and OFF of your noses and scabs) that we'll all pass through this phase quickly.