Children With Eczema: How to Stop the Scratching

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 24, 2017
3 min read

It's easy to say "don't scratch." Getting your child with eczema to listen to that is another story.

You need to.

A little creativity can help keep your kid's fingers away from the itchy rash.

"The trouble with scratching is that it can actually make the condition worse," says Lawrence Eichenfield, MD, chief of pediatric dermatology at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. "And, it can cause cuts in the skin that can become infected. So it's important for parents to learn ways to help their child stop scratching."

There are such ways.

Keep your child's skin moisturized. This can help keep eczema flare-ups and the itch at bay.

Thick ointments, like petroleum jelly, contain more oil. That makes them the most effective at locking in moisture.

Some children may not like the feel of thicker ointments. Thankfully, there are options.

"I suggest parents let their older child try several moisturizers and choose which kind to use," Eichenfield says. "Because the best moisturizer is the one that your child will use."

Use it many times a day, especially after bathing or washing.

Some parents find these can help stop the itching.

The best time to apply one is right before bedtime. Here’s how:

  • Have your child soak in a lukewarm bath for about 5 to 10 minutes.
  • After the bath, gently pat skin dry with a towel and put on moisturizer or medication, as directed.
  • Moisten clean gauze bandages with water and wrap the affected skin.
  • Cover the wet bandages with a dry bandage or towel to lock in the moisture, and leave overnight.

You can apply wet wraps on any part of your child's body that’s especially itchy.

Short nails cause less damage to the skin if your child does scratch. If scratching at night is a problem, have your child wear cotton gloves to bed.

Try using a damp, cold washcloth. You can also cover an ice pack in a soft towel. Hold the compress to your child's skin for a few minutes whenever you need to help relieve itching. You can repeat this, as necessary, throughout the day.

Kids may be less likely to scratch their skin when it's covered up.

"For some reason, young children often start to scratch as soon as their clothes are removed," Eichenfield says.

Choose loose-fitting, comfortable outfits. Cotton and cotton blends are best. Wool and some synthetic fabrics can cause irritation and cause kids to scratch more.

For many children with eczema, the itch is worst at bedtime. Something else to occupy their mind can help them relax and go to sleep.

Some parents have found massaging your child's face at bedtime to work. Use a bit of moisturizer on your index fingers and massage your child's face. Gently rubbing your child's back or legs can help, too.

They can help relieve itching and control the rash. Things like topical steroids are especially useful if other things don’t work.

"Some parents are afraid to use these medications," Eichenfield says. "But when used properly, they are very safe and highly effective."

Experiment with different ways to stop scratching and learn a few methods that work for your child. Keep in mind that what’s helpful one day may not work on another. So have backup strategies ready.