Suzie is a busy mom with three energetic kids. She loves finding and sharing activities and solutions to help her fellow moms stay sane.
Is your child biting his or her nails? How can you stop this habit?
Nail biting in children is a very common habit—one they usually grow out of but can take into adulthood if it goes unchecked.
Most of the time it is just that...a habit. It's something a child unconsciously does when bored or anxious.
Occasionally it can be a sign of more serious, underlying problems, such as real anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Don't worry though; if this is the case, there will be other signs, so nail biting on its own is not a major issue.
Mostly it's just a simple activity that the child isn't even aware he or she is doing. Usually, the only result is that the nails look ugly and can develop sores around the fingertips and cuticles, plus it can be a bit unhygienic if nails are dirty. In extreme cases, newly developing teeth can be weakened, but again, this is unusual.
At a Glance
Nail Biting Remedies
- Bitter tasting nail treatments
- Aloe vera
- Nail care manicures
- The rubber band method
- Screen friendly gloves
- Self adhesive bandages
Kicking the Habit
As with any habit, it takes a bit of effort and the strong inclination to stop to finally be able to kick it.
With younger children, it's harder to get them to stop nail biting, as they don't care about the appearance of their nails. Older kids and teenagers become a bit more self aware, so they are more inclined to want to stop.
Unless the areas surrounding the nails are bitten and raw, I would suggest waiting at least until your child starts to realise that nail biting is causing their nails to be ugly and is not very socially acceptable. There is no need to stress younger children, especially when the problem often goes away by itself.
Once a certain level of maturity is reached, it's a lot easier to explain the benefits of stopping, and help your child actually want to stop.
Appealing to their sense of vanity and their reaction to peer group pressure can often be a great help.
Here are some ideas you can try with your children to help them to stop nail biting as easily as possible.
Stop Nail Biting Treatments
There are a number of treatments available to help children stop biting nails. Of these, I have personally found Mavala to be the most effective for my kids.
Usually treatments are harmless, bitter tasting substances that you paint directly onto the nails or rub onto the fingertips. The idea is simply that your child is reminded every time a finger goes in the mouth.
These treatments are very simple to use, and are particularly effective if your child wants to stop. If not, a persistent child might suck the treatment off no matter how horrible it tastes, in order to keep enjoying the nail biting. If this happens, you might need to look to some other ideas to help stop the habit.
Remember to reapply the treatment during the day as it wears off with hand washing and other activities. We have noticed that Mavala seems to stay on longer than other similar treatments we tried.
Aloe vera is a plant with a very bitter tasting juice. You can grow it at home.
If you split open one of the leaves and rub the gel on the fingertips, it will make them taste awful.
This will have the same effect as a commercial treatment, however the taste doesn't last as long on the nails.
By the way, aloe vera gel is a wonderful natural treatment for burns, so it is well worth having a plant somewhere in your garden.
No matter how short, try to keep the nails manicured and neat.
I know if I have a cracked or sharp-edged nail, I can't help but worry it and bite it until it has gone.
Applying nail varnish can work wonders. (Yes, boys can look cool in nail varnish - there are lots of great colors available). Keep an eye on the nail varnish, though, because sometimes it can encourage even more biting. Don't you love that children are all so individual!
Spending some time manicuring your child's nails can be a rewarding experience - a special time between the two of you.
The Rubber Band Method
A method which often works for older children and teenagers who want to stop biting nails is or them to wear a rubber band loosely around the wrist. Loom band bracelets work well or just a normal rubber band. Remember not to have it too tight, as it can cut of circulation!
Simply teach your child to snap the bracelet against the wrist each time nail biting occurs.
The idea is that your child will begin to associate nail biting with a little bit of pain, and it will discourage the habit.
The rubber band method makes your child personally responsible for controlling his or her habit, and will bring a sense of achievement when the habit is kicked.
Depending on where and when your child is nail biting, gloves can be a quick and easy solution.
These can be perfect to wear when watching tv, outdoors in cold weather or in bed. You can get gloves that are quite thin, so that your child won't get too hot indoors.
The less your child has access to his or her nails to bite, the more likely it is that the habit will be broken.
When my ten year old daughter suddenly started biting her nails, we realized that she was unconsciously doing it during screen time. Gloves had worked for her when she was younger, so I did some research. I was delighted to discover that now there are gloves available which allow you to use touchscreens without a problem. We tried them, and the nail biting stopped. This is a great breakthrough, as screen play time and homework time are frequently the times when many children practice nail biting!
Self Adhesive Bandages
Placing bandaids or similar adhesive strips around the fingertips is another way to prevent fingernails from being bitten.
I would recommend starting with just one nail. As that grows, make a point to your child that that is the nail NOT to bite. Then start on a second nail. Eventually you should be able to narrow it down to just one nail being bitten.
Place the strip so that the pad is directly over the nail itself, and replace each day.
Remember, most kids will grow out of nail biting in their own good time. If you are really concerned, or there are secondary problems such as infections or worrying behaviour, go and see your doctor.
I hope one of my methods helps your kids to kick the habit!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Suzie Armstrong
good7 on November 21, 2017:
my mom doesnt allow me.
Suzie Armstrong (author) on July 12, 2014:
Glad to be of help. I'd love to hear how it goes. Apparently well over a third of all children bite their nails, so it's a very common problem. Helping kids stop the habit is great, but nail biting is rarely something for parents to stress about. By the way, if you want to stop biting your own nails, the ideas in my article work just as well on adults!
Nail Biting Mom on July 12, 2014:
Both my kids (aged 4 & 7) chew their nails. The problem is, so do I, so maybe they've learned to bite their nails by copying me. If I catch either of them at it, I remind the kids not to do it, but most of the time they are biting them when I'm not looking. I like the idea of one nail at a time. I will try that on my 7 year old, thanks. Your article made me realise that I shouldn't worry so much. Lots of other things to worry about :) Thanks for your suggestions.