How to stop your child from biting their nails

Nail-biting is usually a phase in most children but for others, it can be difficult to stop. Here’s how to help your child ditch the habit.

 While your child will likely outgrow their nail-biting habit eventually, you can try to help them stop early.

Nail-biting is a nervous habit that usually starts sometime in childhood. A lot of kids leave nail-biting behind during their teen years, but for some children, the impulse persists into adulthood.

Nail-biting can leave your child’s fingernails looking ragged and unattractive, feeling sore, getting infected, and can even be damaging to your child’s teeth. If your child is upset about being teased for her nail-biting habit, she’s probably ready to stop biting her nails – and she’ll need your help. These ideas may help.

Know when and where your child bites

Before you start trying to end nail-biting, do this simple exercise: carry a notebook around with you for a few days. Whenever you catch your child biting their nails, make a note of the time, the place, and the events that immediately preceded the nail-biting (for example, 12 pm: homework, 6 pm: TV time, 7 pm reading time, and bed). Knowing when your child’s nail-biting occurs can help you find ways to stop it.

Cut them short

Keeping your child’s nails short might help discourage them from nibbling. Your child can’t bite what isn’t there, so keep their nails well-trimmed. This also ensures that bacteria and dirt caught under the nails don’t get into your child’s body.

Encourage your child to take up a hobby

Children often engage in unhealthy habits like nail-biting when they are bored and don’t have anything to do with their hands. Have you ever found yourself, for instance, chewing on a nail as you watched a movie or TV show? Encouraging your child to take up a hobby, something that will keep their hands occupied like working a jigsaw puzzle or painting, and keep projects in the places where your child is most likely to engage in nail-biting.

Avoid the trap of negative goals

For all its complexity, the human mind does not deal well with negatives. If I told you not to think about a polar bear with green polka dots, the only thought in your mind would likely be that polar bear. If you set a goal for your child not to bite their nails, your child’s mind only hears, “bite nails” and torments them with the thought day in and day out. Instead of setting a goal for your child not to bite their fingernails, find a positive way to phrase your words. You might, for instance, set a goal for your child to “grow strong, healthy fingernails”, or to “take care of their nails”.

Use lotions and perfumes

For products that smell so good, lotions and perfumes often have a sharp, bitter taste. If you want to avoid unconscious nail-biting, simply keep the skin of your child’s hands moist with a bad-tasting lotion. That way, even if their fingers do stray to their lips, they won’t stay there long.

Set up a star chart

For each day your child does not bite their nails, give them a small treat or a star on a sticker chart. At the end of the week, they get to choose a prize.  This prize doesn’t have to be a store-bought toy. An extra book at storytime, or a morning of baking cookies with mom or dad, is often more than enough to get a child motivated.