Body-focused Repetitive Behaviors in Children

We can offer a few ways on how to deal with body-focused repetitive behaviors in children.

Today’s world is full of surprises when it comes to the vast majority of disorders that were never discovered 50 to 100 years ago with parenting. Parenting children definitely is quite the challenge and Darwin’s theory of evolution is unique in one aspect which is “Only the strongest survive” of all human species. Body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) can be a real challenge for parents because this disorder like skin picking, for example, is scary. Parents become confused and don’t understand what causes their child to have these behaviors. In addition, these behaviors can carry on into adulthood if people are triggered with emotional trauma. BFRB takes the focus off the mind and puts the focus into these behaviors like skin picking, cutting, drug abuse and the constant feeling of flawed skin. In addition, parents and children both feel helpless, suffer from grief and are frustrated.

Body-focused repetitive behaviors are common and two out of every 50 people suffer from another problem which is hair picking. The number that suffer from skin picking is 5 percent or higher. These people feel embarrassed and are shameful and don’t like to talk about what they are going through with this disorder. Parents feel alone and don’t know where to turn and think that their child is the only one with this disorder.

BFRD simply means that a child is causing harm to themselves through certain habits that are characterized as a disorder. These behaviors are due to certain physical or mental health issues. Some of these examples include pulling their hair, picking the skin, biting their nails and cheeks, and sucking the thumb. Adults are still prone to sucking their thumbs even through their thirties in some cases. These basically are said to be repetitive behaviors but most are harmless and some are not so harmless.


Children or young adults may need treatment if their conditions are severe enough. There is a form of therapy used called habit reversal therapy (HRT). This therapy is used for kids that suck their thumbs and pull their hair. Evidence has shown that this treatment can also be successful for other habits like picking the skin and biting the nails and cheeks. Some people need Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for pulling hair and nail-biting. There are also behavioral health agencies for kids that have other disorders like cutting because they find some form of soothing in that habit as well. This takes their mind off their emotional pain as well as other habits. Cutting can be more dangerous to the individual but adults too have these disorders.

Finding the correct therapy has not been easy that involve kids because studies have not been conducted as frequently on BFRB because the disorder is still relatively new and doctors and researchers have not been able to find the right therapy. Professionals still are saying that HRT seems to be a really effective treatment. This is about the only treatment that is currently available besides behavioral health counseling or good inpatient programs for various disorders. Most kids and teens that have cognitive disorders tend to have a body-focused repetitive disorder. This is why HRT works so well for these individuals. When children have cognitive issues and they look normal, this is still hard for them to feel like they fit in with their peers. Many have problems understanding and focusing on school work and they fall into grey areas. Their IQ is still high enough for regular classes but not low enough for learning disabled (LD) or emotionally disturbed (ED). The school systems whether public or private have the parents do an Individual Education Plan called an IEP and from there they determine where the child needs the most help. If the child falls into the grey area, there is more frustration and insecurity and many of these disorders and habits start to form.

Parents have all heard about mood disorders, anxiety and oppositional defiant disorder often are associated with ADHD. Not many people understand that BFRBs come from ADHD as well. BRFBs are associated with self-image and grooming, anxiety, and sensory stimulation. Some children tend to crack their knuckles constantly which is also on the list of BFRBs. It’s very sad when parents notice that their children have these chronic behaviors and realize that their kids and teens find pleasure to block their pain from these habits. Many people that have these habits want to stop, but they find it hard and out of habit hide their secret into adulthood. Most people that suffer from these behaviors are not even aware they have BFRB.


These habits can begin with overthinking of something bad that has happened, so the child becomes overstimulated and keeps their thoughts to themselves. They might be angry with their home life or other tragic events or just think they have too many blackheads. Some people don’t like their nails, while other kids keep picking at scabs on different parts of their bodies where they might have fallen outside. People with BFRBs sometimes spend hours practicing these behaviors. Many start to do damage to their bodies in physical ways. Some people have even picked large holes in their skin without realizing what they are doing.

This damage can lead to bald spots, scarring, acne, major nail damage and cuts in the side of their mouths. Many develop gastrointestinal problems from eating their hair and nails. This is just a huge roller coaster effect because the child or teen becomes more disgusted and frustrated, which leads to periods of long-term isolation.

BFRBs have been categorized for a long time as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) but new studies have determined that people with ADHD are also prone to BFRBs. These people are not OCD but this stems from ADHD in kids, teens, and adults that don’t seek treatment. It’s up to the parents to help their children seek the right treatment as children so they can manage their adult lives and stay organized and not live in shame. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is considered the predisposition to having BFRBs. This may seem very overwhelming for parents but there is help out there for your children and with your love and support and the right support groups, your child can conquer these habits for life.