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?