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
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.