Why Kids Bite Their Nails? Tools, Tips and Tactics to Stop Nail Biting

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Why Kids Bite Their Nails? Tools, Tips and Tactics to Stop Nail Biting

sad-child nail biting

Nail biting is one of the most common ‘nervous traits’ in children but if it is not stopped, many times it continues into adulthood. Some children bite their nails because of stress, insecurity, anxiety or boredom. For some, nail biting is a habit or a need for comfort. Like hair twirling, hair chewing, hair tugging, teeth grinding, thumb sucking, finger tapping, and nose picking, nail biting makes you a target for teasing and is a health concern.

Nail biting is considered socially unacceptable. Moreover ragged, bitten nails aren’t attractive, and the act of biting your nails or the sound of nail biting is repulsive to many. Nail biting can also harm your teeth! Even though a third of school aged kids bite their nails, helping your child to stop is the right thing to do.


A much more serious cause of nail biting is Compulsive nail biting, called onychophagliaa repetative behavior that results in the destruction of one’s own fingernails and must be treated by professionals.

What Triggers Your Child to Bite His Nails

Find out what triggers your child to bite his nails. Observe your child before bringing up the subject about stopping. Most likely your child is not even aware how often he bites his nails. Communicate with your child’s teacher to find out what she observes at school. When approaching the subject of stopping, you must try to resolve the issues that made him start and make him continue to bite his nails. This could take some time and in the interim you should help him redirect his biting/chewing urge to a safer, more appropriate outlet.

Once you have narrowed down the events/times that your child bites his nails, discuss the issue with your child. Listen to his side of the story and together come up with a game plan. Point out the health issues, the annoyance it brings to friends and family, the unsightly bitten nails and the wasted time caused by having his fingers in his mouth.

Get Your Child On Board

Your conversation should not put more pressure on your child and exasperate the problem further. If your child in not being teased YET about his nail biting, perhaps it would be best not to mention this as a reason for stopping because this fact would put too much pressure on the youngster. Gently get your child on board so he wants this and will put an effort in stopping.

Enlist Your Teacher’s Help to Stop Nail Biting

Child Chewing KidCompanion Chewelry instead  of nail bitingSomehow convince your child that having his teacher aware of your plan to stop nail biting will help put an end to this more quickly. The strategies you will use at home, for the most part, can also be used at school. You could devise a signal the teacher can use to help remind your child to stop biting his nails. This can tactfully be done without any other student noticing. It could be a gentle tap on the shoulder or on your child’s desk, a tug on the lanyard of his chewelry, a request to carry books to a shelf… The key, here, is not to nag or embarrass the youngster but to give him a discreet push of encouragement that says to the child, I know it is difficult to stop but give the alternative outlets another try.

If the nail biting is severe and the problem persists, you must dig deeper to find out the root cause of the biting. An evaluation from a health care professional might bring answers.


Tools, Tips and Tactics to Stop Nail Biting

The following are techniques and products to stop nail biting but they must be respectful of others around the child. As an example, kids with sensitive issues will never be comfortable sitting next to a gum chewing peer. So by weighing the pros and the cons and respecting the needs of others, the following are some tools, tips and tactics you can use to inhibit nail biting:

  • * Redirect biting to a chewy,  KidCompanions Chewelry, chewing gum…
  • *Have crunchy, healthy snacks always close at hand and ready to eat.
  • *Use of a bitter tasting product applied on the nails: nail polish, lotions, perfumes or homemade potions made of pepper or soap.
  • *Apply a bitter substance such as ginger oil, easily obtained by soaking some ginger for two weeks in oil olive.
  • *Buy a commercial product available at most pharmacies.
  • *Put band aids on your nails.
  • *Keep your child busy and focused on fun activities.
  • *Reinforce positive behavior by praising him.
  • *Can establish a reward system to motivate the child for each small step made.
  • * Keep the hands busy with a fidget, silly putty, worry stone, stress ball, Velcro spot underneath desk table…
  • * Plan to polish and decorate your girl’s nails as soon as they grow back.

Nail biting seems to be such an insignificant matter when the lives of families are disrupted by more serious issues. However, by being proactive and getting nail biting under control before the teasing, the bullying and the bloody fingers repulse friends and classmates, you’re doing this child a great favor.

Do you know of other techniques or products to stop nail biting?

15 Comments

  1. […] costing parents a lot of money. Then there is the question of discomfort, damage to teeth, and if nail biting is involved you have damaged, unsightly nails. Imagine coming home from school, chilled in the cold […]

  2. Katie says:

    I can’t help but feel like the focus on what other people think is the wrong approach although I can see how kids who are already insecure and have anxiety this may work. I don’t bite my nails bc I want to, I don’t even think about it. Telling me I need to change is like telling me I have a fault. Great, another reason to feel like I don’t fit in, I’m not good enough, I’m weird. I am a nail biter and continue to bite my nails as an adult when I am alone or reading before bed. I have never been made fun of for biting my nails and only my husband has said something about it bc when I scratch his back it sometimes makes it hurt. I of course have always hated it and tried breaking the habit on my own several times as a child, but ended up back with it bc it’s a control/stress thing (I think). What got me to finally become more aware of it while actually doing it was realizing how my dirty fingers in my mouth can make me sick. I started biting my nails when I was forced to stop sucking my fingers. Too many of these behaviors are sen as bad when they’re just a way for a child to cope. I’m not saying don’t stop the behavior. I understand the logic behind it, but don’t make it a negative fearful thing. Make it a growing positive thing.

    • Thanks Katie for your input about nail biting. I agree, and tried to show this in my post, that approching the topic of stopping to bite their nails with a child is a delicate thing and should be done with care. The last thing a parent would want is to add more stress. I appreciate that you took the time to write a comment which should help parents understand why a child would bite his nails.

  3. Kristen Law says:

    I need help: my child bites their nails but puts the nails in their mouth! Please help me here.

    • Hello Kristen Law, I read that when a child bites and then eats their nails it is sometimes just their way of coping with a stressful situation. In the article I read Dr. Hon suggested providing a safe chewing tool (like KidCompanions Chewelry) as one of the solutions. Read how Dr. Hon answers this question here: http://parenthots.com/q_a/panel_of_experts/default.aspx?c=0&q=132&p=1

      • Salma says:

        Hello I’m very worried for my son his six and bites his nails a lot. His having problems at school no friends I’ve told his teacher and I’m thinking of changing schools. My eldest son never had a problem any advise plz.

        • Salma, sorry to hear about your son and his nail biting problem as well as his difficulties at school and in making friends. Perhaps all three problems are connected but we do not know which one started first or continues because of the others. I would suggest a scheduled meeting with his teacher where both sides sit down and plan out strategies to make the life of this little boy better. When you meet with the teacher also plan on a way to contact each other to report how the child is doing. Perhaps a meeting with the teacher, you and the child could be planned for the next time. Either set up a follow-up meeting or send messages by email, etc. Changing schools might only bring on more anxieties and more nail biting. If you found our post it means you are searching for answers and that is a good sign. Let your child know you are doing your best to help him. Hope all works out well.

  4. jenny says:

    I bit my nails for years. Finally wanted to stop when I was getting married and wanted nice ring pictures. so then i tried http://youtu.be/aAcWD9wimwg & worked for me

  5. Maria Romero Alvarez says:

    My son is 4 and has a horrible nail bitting habit. I cant really remember when it really started but I do know that its gotten bad for the last few months. He has some fingers that has barely half a nail and almost all of them have skin chewed off. Hes a very happy, playful, energetic kid and i know he doesn’t do it because of stress or insecurities. . . . I think its just a bad habit he picked up but I dont know how to stop him! When I see his finger in his mouth I remind him ” no bitting” or ive tried putting bandaids but he takes those off as soon as im out of sight, ive tried putting garlic on his nails so that they taste bad but he’ll wash his hands and start it again. . . What else can i try or what am I doing wrong? It hurts to see his little fingers bleeding and hurting

    • Maria Romero Alvarez thanks for sharing your story about your child’s nail biting. It is a problem that many parents write to us about. Have you tried giving him a safe, sensory item like our chew necklaces to see if he would chew on that instead of on his nails? Hope you find a solution soon.

  6. […] READ Also: Why Kids Bite Their Nails? Tools, Tips and Tactics to Stop Nail Biting […]

  7. kim mcpeak says:

    My granddaughter is 18-months old and she bites her nails way past the quick. She cries that they hurt when they get wet or when you wipe her hands off. Any suggestions?

    • Thanks Kim for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. Hope you find a solution for your 18 month old granddaughter who bites her nails. In our post on this topic we have many tips and we always suggest providing a safe item for a child to chew to satisfy his urge to chew and bite. Our new SentioCHEWS just out since Nov. 2013 might help.

  8. Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Looking through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He constantly kept preaching about this. I am going
    to send this post to him. Pretty sure he’ll have
    a great read. Many thanks for sharing!

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