Scrapes, cuts and skinned knees are just par for the course when you’re growing up. From falling off a bicycle to tripping on the sidewalk, there are myriad ways that kids can find themselves with cuts on their skin that later form into scabs. Scabbing over is part of the skin’s healing process, but it’s also a fascinating thing for kids to observe. As an adult, it can be difficult to remember a time when scabs held such sway, but there are reasons why the itchy discomfort of a scab is so fascinating to youngsters.
How Scabs Form
To understand why scabs itch and how they become so enthralling to kids, you first have to understand what causes them to begin with. A scab is formed when the platelets in a child’s blood begin to clot in order to stop bleeding. As that clot begins to dry, it hardens and becomes a scab. Fibrin, a protein resulting from the chain reaction that creates a blood clot, plays a major role in the formation of scabs.
Why Scabs Itch
When a scab forms, the body produces histamine that helps to speed along the healing process. Histamine is the same substance that can cause itchiness and allergic reactions, which is one of the reasons why the scab on your child’s knee itches so much. Furthermore, the sensitive nerves in the upper layer of the damaged skin can be so sensitive during the healing process that the signals are affected, sending the message to his brain that the skin around the injury itches. Some doctors and medical researchers posit that scabs may itch because the scab pulls on new skin as it forms, and that the area around it begins to itch as a result. Dryness is also believed to be a possible culprit behind the itchiness of a healing wound, as the oil glands that normally keep skin lubricated and prevent dryness are affected by the damage done during the infliction of the wound.
What kids often don’t understand is that scabs play an important role in the healing of their skin, and that picking it off while the new skin is still forming could open the wound again. The bacteria under a kid’s nails can also introduce the possibility of infection to a wound that was healing cleanly.
The Gross Factor
There’s something about anything adults find disgusting that delights and fascinates a child. From the products of their noses to the colors and texture of a particularly nasty scab, kids take great joy in grossing their parents – and themselves – out. One reason why kids are so excited by the formation of a scab and find them so difficult to resist is simply that they’re gross. Most kids will eventually grow out of the gross-is-cool phase, but until then, scabs will reign supreme as a revolting source of amusement.
Young children are often motivated largely by their curiosity with the world, the way it works and even how it affects their own bodies. When scabs are still something of a novelty, kids are absorbed with them largely because they’re unknown and, as such, are fascinating. Explaining what a scab is, what it does and why it should be left alone may help to discourage scratching and picking to some degree.
When Fascination Becomes a Sign of Something More Serious
There are lots of reasons why kids like to pick at and play with a scab that’s formed on their skin, but there are also more serious motivations behind some skin-picking behavior. Excoriation can be a compulsive activity that indicates a burgeoning anxiety or mood disorder that you should discuss with your child’s medical provider, especially if he can’t seem to stop picking at his scabs. Habitual or compulsive scab-picking is actually classified as a form of self-harm, and should not be ignored. The vast majority of scab-picking is seated in sheer juvenile curiosity, but it’s better to play it safe by discussing the matter with a doctor than to ignore potentially harmful habits.