Children and Nail Biting

It can be frustrating for parents to see their children developing a habit of compulsion, like biting fingernails, especially if we wish we had gotten such habits mastered when we were children ourselves. When helping our children with an issue such as this, it’s important not to express too much frustration, which the child may interpret as personal criticism and rejection. Here’s some things that I’ve found have worked:


  • Observe when your child bites his or her fingernails. What type of situation are they in? Are they feeling bored or anxious? Do they do it around certain people? Or in specific places? If you see a pattern, talk about this with your child in a wider context. For example, if you notice that your child bites their nails while at a specific child’s house, ask them what they feel when they are there, and what happens there that makes him or her feel that way? The behavior could be a sign that some situations aren’t constructive for your child.


  • Discuss with your child why you want them to break this habit. The most important reasons are for their health and comfort: nail biting hurts and can lead to more frequent illnesses (due to putting their hands often in their mouths). This clarifies to your child that you’re doing this out of your concern for them, not as personal criticism.


  • Have your child wash their hands every time you see them biting their nails. They’ll get tired of interrupting their activities to wash their hands. Meanwhile, you’re minimizing the risk of them contracting colds or flu from having their fingers in his mouth.


  • Make a progress chart with progressively larger rewards as he or she reaches certain milestones. For example, the first time he or she goes all day without biting their nails, reward them with something small, like some stickers or a candy bar. Then, set the next goal at a week without nail biting. Make a chart and mark each successful day with a sticker or smiley face. Make the reward for the week a little bigger, and so on. If she doesn’t make the goal on the first try, tell her she can start over tomorrow and don’t make too big of a deal about it.


  • Clip your child’s nails once per week. Some children bite their nails if they get too long, ragged, or uneven. If your child is biting off hangnails, have them put on some hand lotion just before bed.


  • Don’t put potentially harmful substances on your child’s fingers without first consulting a pediatrician. Old school “remedies” like cayenne pepper and quinine aren’t widely practiced for a reason.


Have you experienced this issue with your child?  What did you do?  Let me know down below in the comments!

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