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How Can I Help My Children Stop Biting Their Fingernails?

Keeping your children's fingernails trimmed can help prevent nail biting.
Girl biting her fingernails.
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  • Written By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2014
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Parents tend to worry about their children's bad habits, and nail biting is a common one. Almost one third of children 7-10 years old and almost half of all adolescents bite their nails! The sooner you can help your children stop biting their fingernails, the easier it will be for them. Nail biting is not only unattractive, but can cause lasting damage to your children's teeth, so it is in your best interest to help them quit!

One of the most important things NOT to do when trying to help your children stop biting their fingernails is punish them. Nail biting is hard to stop, and punishing your children will just make them more frustrated. Instead, help your children to stop biting their fingernails by giving them useful tools and positive reinforcement.

Some suggestions that you can give your children when they are trying to stop biting their fingernails involve distraction. For some people, distraction is enough to make them forget to bite their fingernails. Obviously, which distractions are successful will depend on the age of your children. Some possibilities include:

  • Giving them clay or Play-Doh® to occupy their hands
  • Giving them twist ties or pipe cleaners to play with
  • Teaching them to knit or crochet
  • Giving them some sort of squishy ball or "stress ball" to play with
  • Giving them a smooth rock to rub

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If distractions don't work, and your children cannot stop biting their fingernails, try some positive reinforcement. Some ideas include:

  • Taking your children to get professional manicures to improve the look of their hands (this may work better with girls than boys).
  • Complimenting your children when you notice that they are not biting their nails.
  • Providing a small reward when they can go a certain amount of time without biting their nails (this is probably more effective for young children).

If none of these ideas help your children to stop biting their nails, you may have to go to greater lengths. Remember not to use these techniques as a punishment, but as a way to help your children.

  • If your children have bitten their nails to the point where they are really painful, have them wear gloves until they grow back.
  • Use a bitter-tasting clear nail polish to reduce the temptation of nail biting.
  • Carry nail clippers or nail files to help your children smooth their nails when they begin biting.

Although for some people, nail biting is nothing more than a habit, in others, it may be an indication that there are serious worries or stress present in their lives. Talk to your children, and make sure you know what is worrying them. Offer support to your children in any way possible. Children can worry about things that seem silly to adults but are very real to them, so take their worries seriously and reassure them that you are there to help.

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Discuss this Article

anon325473
Post 6

I bite my nails and it's embarrassing when people see me biting or if they just see my nails and nothing! It works.

anon164947
Post 4

I bit my nails as a child and still catch myself now. My mom used all sorts of no bite polish to no avail. I now have a daughter who is only 2 1/2 years old and she also chews her nails. Her father who she has only met two or three times chews his nails too. Is this hereditary?

GenevaMech
Post 3

When I was a child, my parents helped me stop biting my nails by positive reinforcement and rewards. My parents never scolded for chewing my nails, and for the times that I stopped chewing them they took me somewhere fun. It was hard to stop chewing my nails and a little embarrassing, but with their help, I eventually grew out of it.

Comparables
Post 2

@Fiorite- Maybe it was stress that was making you pick at your cuticles. I didn't stop biting my finger nails until I started addressing the things that make me stressed out. I started finding things to do to lower my stress levels and I slowly began to forget about my fingernails. I started to do things like play the bass, take a nightly walk, and make more time for exercise, and I broke a number of bad habits.

Your moment of reflection sounds similar. It sounds like you didn't like your state of mind/being, so you made a conscious effort to change that.

Fiorite
Post 1

When I was a kid, my problem was picking at my cuticles rather than biting my nails. My mother tried all kinds of things to get me to stop picking my cuticles, but it did not work. I did not stop until I was an adult. One day I just made the conscious effort to change a few bad habits. I quit smoking cigarettes, stopped picking at my cuticles, and began to really focus on a healthy diet. There was no other reason than the fact that I was not happy with where I was at, and wanted to change that. I guess the point of my little story is that some habits simply die hard. You can only change these habits if you want to change them.

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