Let’s kick that painful, germ-ridden habit to the curb and get your toddler’s nails about of the mouth. Before you can effectively put the habit to rest, it might be helpful to understand what triggers the incessant nail-biting in the first place.
Why do kids bite their nails?
So many reasons prompt your child to bite their nails. These are some of the most common:
Whichever the driving cause for your child’s nail-biting habit, it is considered a nervous habit and one that has a likely potential of continuing into adulthood. While not all nail-biting rings cause for alarm or necessities your immediate intervention, it is a habit worth keeping an eye on.
Make note of when your child is nail-biting – homework, social settings, family arguments, etc. – so you can understand the emotion-triggering the habit.
If your child’s nail-biting draws blood, causes pain, or is associated with other nervous scratching and picking, you’ll want to use the more hands-on intervention methods.
Steps to Get Child to Stop Biting Nails
The good news is that it’s definitely possible to get your child to stop biting nails. If one of the methods below isn’t working, try another. Eventually, you will find an approach or two that effectively draws your child out of the nail-biting habit. Remember, the sooner you confront the habit, the sooner you can eliminate it.
Check out these tips for stopping nail biting, and see if one works for your nail-biting child.
1. Observe first
The most important thing to do as a parent is to observe and understand your child’s behavior so you can present the best possible solutions for navigating the immediate and long-term future.
It is instinct when you seeing your child biting her nails to brush her hand away from her mouth or repeatedly pull her fingers back down to her side. However, forcing cessation of habit does not always eliminate the behavior’s emotional drivers.
If your child is nail-biting, observe the habit first. Is it happening at certain times of the day or during certain activities? Is it producing pain? Is it consistent?
Address ideas of concern before addressing the habit, itself. For example, if your child is biting her nails every afternoon as you set up the kitchen table to do homework with a tutor, she might be feeling nervous about her tutor or her academic capacity. In this case, you can ask her how she likes the tutor, her lessons, the school work and even school itself. An academic or relationship nervousness might reveal itself. If this happens, addressing and resolving the causes for nervousness might naturally lead to the stopping of nail-biting.
2. Offer help
If your child appears self-conscious about the bitten condition of his nails or about his nail-biting habit, let him know you are on his team and hear to help him kick the habit out of his life. Have a serious conversation about habits – about how we develop habits, keep habits and how it is difficult at any age to stop a habit. Explain that stopping nail-biting might be difficult, but that you’ll come up with a solution together to stop the habit.
As you tackle the habit together, keep your child accountable for his commitment to stop nail-biting. Review the reasons to stop in the mornings and evenings. Reward him with positive affirmations when he resists nail-biting. Implement solutions to stop the biting, such as tape on the fingers during movies.
Discuss your involvement with your child, and make sure you are not overstepping your role in his desire to stop nail-biting.
3. Avoid nagging
While it is the impulse to show your child when she is biting her nails, do your best to observe the situation and remain calm. After the biting ceases, you can ask your child why she was biting, or present an idea such as, “I noticed you were biting your nails, are you nervous about your playdate?” This calm inquiry lets her know you are watching over her, you respect her behavioral decisions and that you are curious about her feelings. It might also help her associate a lingering nervousness with the nail-biting impulse.
4. Create biting barriers
If nail-biting is becoming painful or harmful to your child or she simply wants to cut the habit, you can implement a few old school barrier methods. Try painting your child’s nails so biting tastes bad. If you try this method, use several coats of paint so that as your child bites through, the nail continues to taste bad enough (hopefully bad enough to stop biting!). You can also wrap your child’s fingertips in bandages to make it impossible to reach the nail.
5. Set limits around nail-biting
Since simply telling a child to stop doing something is unlikely to effectively make the habit stop, set boundaries around when it is allowed. For example, you can ban nail-biting in the car or at meals. These boundaries imply that behavioral choices are at your child’s will. However, eliminating these opportunities under certain house rules reduces additional times when the habit can continue and worsen, helping it to slow and stop. As you enforce the rules around when nail-biting is not allowed, be straightforward, strict and careful not to suggest anything unsightly about the habit.
6. Make nails too pretty to bite
If you trim your child’s nails regularly, you reduce the surface area that is available for biting, making it more challenging to partake in the habit.
You can take a special interest in the cleanliness and maintenance of your child’s hands to discourage biting by wanting to preserve their neat, natural state. You might give your child a manicure or pay a visit it to the salon to make nails too fancy and beautiful to risk biting and chipping or ruining.
7. Distract your child
Boredom, curiosity, and nervousness are a few of the biggest nail-biting drivers. Avoid these by distracting your child with activities, playdates, toys, and objects that otherwise occupy their energy or hands. Playing and having fun reduces nervousness and gets overwhelming energy out of the body that might lead your child to bite her nails while sitting and fidgeting.
Notice when nail-biting becomes instinctive and plan ahead to bring alternative games or activities when you know this habit might arise. For example, bring a book to the waiting room at the doctor or a game to play in the car on a long car ride.
With so many effective methods for stopping nail-biting, you are bound to find one that works for your child. Stay supportive, experiment with approaches, and trust that you and your child can grow out of this habit.
Have you tried any of the tips above with luck? Let us know in the comments what’s worked or not worked for your nail-biters so other parents can help their kids, today!