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, leading to poorly aligned, weakened 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 onychophaglia, a repetative behavior that results in the destruction of one’s own fingernails and must be treated by professionals.
“Chronic nail biting can cause serious problems,” said board-certified dermatologist Margaret E. Parsons, MD, FAAD, associate clinical professor of dermatology, University of California, Davis. “In addition to making the skin around your nails feel sore, repeated nail biting can damage the tissue that makes nails grow, resulting in abnormal-looking nails. It can also leave you vulnerable to infection as you pass harmful bacteria and viruses from your mouth to your fingers and from your nails to your face and mouth.”
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
Somehow 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
Replace the nail–biting habit with a good habit or fun activity: Teach your child to try playing with a stress ball, hand fidget or silly putty instead. This will help keep his hands busy and away from his mouth.
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, like SentioCHEWS or 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 to put on nails.
- *Put band aids on your nails.
- *Keep your child busy and focused on fun activities.
- *Reinforce positive behavior by praising him.
- *Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it whenever you get the urge to bite your nails.
- *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?
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.
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
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.
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
Jenny it was good you found a way to stop your nail biting…just in time for wedding photos.
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.
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.
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!
well im 15 years old boy and i love biting nails cuz its keep me unbored. sometimes my finger were bleeding but i like the taste of it so i want some serious help for these i hope u all can help me.kindly sent it to my emails
I’m afraid I do not have more suggestions than those found in our post on “Why Kid Bite Their Nails? Tools, Tips and Tactics to Stop Nail Biting. Have you tried the things we suggest? We have a Tougher-than-Silicone chew pendant called SentioCHEWS that might satisfy your urge to chew and bite. See thenm on our web site https://www.kidcompanions.com The best of luck in finding a solution, Lorna
I chew my nails because as a child I was put in foster care and I couldn’t deal with the grief of being taken away from my parents and put in a new home. I am now a 15 year old girl and I started nail chewing when I was 4 or 5. My dad has told me to stop but I am a stubborn person. He has even offered money for stopping but I just can’t. I’m too old to be walking around with a chew toy around my neck and I would be made fun of for doing that. My dentist has even said it is affecting my teeth in a serious way. Help me.
Hello Kristen, Thanks for sharing your story as it will be helpful to others. Don’t rule out all chew toys thinking you are too old to have one. We have adults who wear and use ours. Our new Black & White KidCompanions Chewelry Circles are popular with older tweens and teens. Other companies make chew toys also. You could always have a chew pendant in a pocket and bring it out when you have the urge to chew your finger nails. We have Clip-on chew/fidget pendants that clip on clothing or in a pocket so the user does not lose it. Have you asked your parents or your teachers to help you by gently reminding you when you start biting your finger nails to bite another safer object? I wish you all the best & hope you will find something to help you…then please let us know so we can share it with others. Lorna
Sometimes children bite their finger nails due to sensory processing disorder (SPD). It helps them to focus and relax. Google SPD.