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How to Stop Your Children from Biting Their Nails

On any given day, we teach our children a multitude of lessons. We make a conscious effort to teach them some lessons: manners, playing well with others, and useful tasks for their everyday lives. Other lessons are taught through example or even through the parent’s subconscious daily activities. Some of these instances include cleaning up after ourselves (and them), being good to your pets, giving your children plenty of love and affection, and even sustainable living initiatives like recycling.   

However, as your child absorbs the lessons you teach them, they can also pick up habits from those around them. One habit that is particularly rampant throughout not just kids but adults too is biting fingernails. So, here is how to stop nail biting in children.

Find a Reason for the Nail Biting

Children emulate the adults in their lives far more than most of us even realize. Everything they witness, hear, or participate in gets internalized. (And, many times, the result can come out in the worst, most embarrassing way possible.) 

In all seriousness, though, children often start biting their nails for the same reasons experts theorize adults maintain the habit:

  • Anxiety
  • This act of grooming feels good
  • Genetic predisposition

So, while there are no abundantly clear reasons children bite their nails, as everything is subject to theory, these common reasons can help you figure out how to help your child break the habit. 

For instance, if your child is nervous about something and can find out what the problem is, you can help them feel better about it or solve it. If you suspect that this act of grooming just feels good to your child or if there is a genetic predisposition, there are a few different actions you can take to get your child to stop nail biting.

Talk to Your Child About the Habit

You can’t stop something you don’t realize you’re doing, and for many people, children and adults alike, biting their nails is a subconscious habit. Therefore, it is important to bring it to their attention in a caring, productive way.

In other words, don’t call them out, tell them “that’s gross,” or lose your patience over it. Instead, have a genuine conversation with them and make them aware of what they are doing. You can explain that it’s dirty, and they could hurt their fingers if they do it too much.

However, what is more important, is that you bring it to their attention. During this conversation, it might be good to create a code with your child. That way, you can easily and privately tell them they are biting their nails no matter where you are. Also, if you let your child pick the code word, they will feel more included in the process and will likely respond better when the time comes to use the code.  

Keep Your Child’s Nails Short

The longer a person’s nails are, the more chance they can break and get hangnails. Plus, for a child, having nails of any length requires a dedication to maintenance that they are not interested in undertaking. Therefore, you should keep your children’s nails short. Overall, shorter nails cause less temptation to bite them. 

short nails
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Suggest a Healthy Alternative

With kids, it is always easier to correct behavior if there is an alternative option. So, instead of getting angry with your children, calling them out, or otherwise trying to embarrass the habit away, offer an alternative solution. 

For instance, you can suggest healthy food for them to munch on instead of their nails. Such a suggestion helps assuage the oral fixation that may contribute to biting their nails. Plus, offering a healthy snack option is a solution that will continue to be acceptable throughout adulthood. 

Use a Reward System

Implementing an enticing reward system can prove extremely useful when trying to get your child to stop biting their nails. Parents, it’s okay to break this habit with bribery before it becomes a lifelong struggle. So, if your child is reward-motivated (as most children and adults are), work out a realistic tiered timeframe with different rewards at each milestone. 

Depending on the frequency of the habit, take the system of breaking it step by step. Reward your child every day you do not see evidence of nail-biting, leading up to a bigger reward at the end of a week, two weeks, and month. This can start with positive verbal reinforcement and graduate to a privilege at home, a dessert of their choice from the local bakery, or even a trip to the zoo! Building motivation will give your child a sense of accomplishment, and eventually, the habit will break, and they will no longer need the system to stay on track. 

In summation, nail-biting is not synonymous with children, as according to the National Library of Medicine, about 20 to 30 percent of the population bites their nails. The widespread nature of this issue further illustrates the need to figure out how to stop nail biting in children.

Featured Photo by Alena Shekhovtcova from Pexels