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Is Nail Biting a Problem for Your Child?

Nail biting in children is a tale as old as time, but it doesn’t mean you should just accept it.  Nibbling on those nails can be damaging to health and wellbeing, as well as point to underlying problems.

Have you decided it’s time to nip it in the bud? Here’s some tips on how to stop nail biting in children.

First things first, it’s useful to know why our children end up nibbling on their nails.

Why do children bite their nails?

Like thumb-sucking, hair twisting and nose picking, nail biting is a common habit for children.

While these behaviors are known as ‘nervous habits’ they may not actually be an indication that you child is in any way nervous.

Reasons why children bit their nails?

Most children bite their nails:

  • When they are feeling bored or curious
  • To pass the time
  • To relieve stress or
  • Simply as a force of habit

So, nail biting can be caused by a multitude of issues, and the most important thing is encouraging them to stop without it turning into an battle.

Some ways to help stop the habit

Give those nails a daily trim

Dirt, bacteria and all sorts of other nasties love long nails.

These particles love to hide under the nails in wait for your child to get nibbling and pass them into the mouth.

So the best thing to do is trim your child’s nails every day, so if they do bite them the damage is minimal.

Create a new, healthier habit

Like every habit, nail biting is a tough one to quit, so replacing it with a healthy one can be a good tactic!

Try introducing regular snacks of crunchy carrot, cucumber and apple sticks (keep it healthy) as they can replicate the ‘crunch’ they get when biting their nails.

A small stress ball or some silly putty can work in the same way, giving your child something else to focus on when they’re feeling fidgety or worried.

Find a ‘secret’ signal to stop them biting

Nail biting can often be subconscious, so coming up with a way to make your child aware of their biting can be useful.

Try lightly tapping your child’s arm or leg when they are biting their nails without telling anybody else.

Obviously keeping it friendly without nagging is a good idea.

Reward each little victory

If your child is young enough to enjoy a sticker chart? This  can be a fun and useful way to reward your child for not biting their nails.

Choose a time marker, e.g. day, half a day and give your child a sticker if they manage not to bite their nails during this time.

Once they have earned a specific number of stickers, give them an award that you know they will enjoy and work to achieve. 

Book them in for a manicure

While this won't work with all children, some might enjoy the chance to get a ‘grown-up’ manicure.

Whether you book them into a child-friendly salon or go DIY at home, see if your child would be up for a manicure and use it as a reward.

Try an anti-nail-biting treatment

We’re sure you’ve heard of those gross-tasting nail varnishes that help people to stop biting their nails.

They work by ‘punishing’ the nail biter when they get nibbling with a horrible taste – not only stopping the biter in their tracks but also forming a negative association with the act over time.

It’s normal to be hesitant about using this with children, though, as it’s not them choosing to do it themselves.  Perhaps you’d prefer a more natural take on anti-nail biting treatments?

Avoid if the child has any broken skin close to the nails as the ingredients could aggravate the problem.

Be positive and be patient

Remember that it can be hard for an adult to kick an unwanted habit so your child may find it even harder.

Just keep at it and find a way that suits you and your child in helping them give up nail biting once and for all!

When to seek medical advice

For some people, nail biting may be a sign of a more serious psychological or emotional problem.

If your child has repeatedly tried to stop biting their nails but the problem persists, or if your child begins to develop skin or nail infections, it would be wise to seek medical help.