You may know at least one person, either from your childhood or as an adult, who does it: nail-biting. It’s the most common of the habits that little kids pick up, including thumb-sucking, hair twisting, and nose picking, according toBabyCenter. Often, these habits go away as a child grows older. Some children, however, will take their nail-biting habit into adulthood.
“[Nail-biting] is a tough habit to break once it’s established,” Dr. Michael Dickinson, the chief of pediatrics at Miramichi Regional Hospital, told Today's Parent. “My advice is as soon as you notice that your child is biting her nails repeatedly, gently intervene. The longer she does it, the harder it is to stop.”
Young children tend to bite their nails when they’re anxious, stressed, or worried. You’ll see him biting his nails when feeling shy at a playdate, for example, or when he’s about to try something new. Some kids do it when they’re bored too.
“You want to discourage your child’s biting, but not in a way that embarrasses or punishes them,” said Dr. Dickinson. Threatening or punishing your child may only backfire, added Dr. Steve Dowshen in a column for KidsHealth. Here are things you can do instead:
1. Fix it from the root of the problem There’s a reason for your child’s nail-biting. If you fix it from there, the nail-biting will stop along with whatever’s causing the problem in the first place.
“The best thing you can do to help your child is to try and figure out why they are biting their nails in the first place,” said pediatrician Dr. Cindy L. Gellner in an interview with the University of Utah Health Radio. “If your child is under a lot of stress, try to reduce the stress. Talk about what is bothering them and ways to handle those situations.” If it’s shyness at preschool, find ways to help her make friends, for example.
2. Keep your child’s nails short The temptation to bite his nails will be harder to resist when it’s long and unkempt. If it’s short and trimmed though, there will be nothing to bite.
3. Give your child something to hold Keep your child’s hands busy and away from his teeth by giving him something to hold. “This may be a small ball, a paper clip, a rubber band, a piece of string, Play-Doh, a small toy or a smooth stone,” suggested SheKnows writer Sherri Kuhn. 4. Use visual cues Children love bandages. Colorful and fun ones on your child’s fingers will be a gentle reminder to help her to stop the habit. Kid-friendly nail polish or nail stickers may have the same effect. However, make sure your child is okay with this strategy first, said BabyCentre UK. “Making her wear things that draw attention to her habit may make her feel self-conscious, or as if she’s being punished.”
5. Reward with praise It may take time, so be patient. In the meantime, praise and comment on your child’s progress instead. “If you nag at your child, it's going to cause them more stress and it may make them bite their nails even more,” said Dr. Gellner. “Be gentle and supportive as they try to quit this behavior. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.”