I do it, and so does my daughter.
It’s a terrible, unsightly, and often painful habit, and something I wish I had never passed on to her.
We are both nail biters.
By around age 6 we realised my girl was a full on nail biter, just like I used to be. At around age 8 she was very self conscious about it, and really wanted to stop.
We tried all kinds of crazy things to help her stop biting her nails. We tried commercial products – you know, the ones that you paint on and make your nails taste terrible – but they didn’t work. They wash and wear off during the day and if she couldn’t bite them she’d pick at them instead, doing just as much damage. I knew from experience that we really needed more than a ‘quick fix’ to change this habit.
We tried lots of different techniques and ideas and these are the ones that we think work best.
Seven Ways to Help Kids Stop Biting Their Nails
You need to want to stop.
For a long time I had pointed out how painful it was to bite your nails so badly that they bleed. I’d tell her how much I wished she didn’t have the habit, how much I hated it when I did it, but it wasn’t until she decided for herself that she really wanted to stop did we see any real change.
You can explain why it is not a good habit to have till you are blue in the face, and tell them what the benefits of stopping are, but in the end you just have to be patient and wait until they are ready to give it a try.
Look for triggers.
Both of us still bite our nails occasionally, even now, and it’s easy to see what the triggers are now that it is a more isolated thing – for my girl it is stress/nerves, boredom, and having rough nails or ragged cuticles just begging to be picked at. Once we knew what the major triggers were we could try and address them and attempt to break the habit when it was at it’s worst.
Switch It Out
If stress or worry is one of your nail biting triggers then trying to switch the nail biting reaction to something else can be helpful. These days I try to clench and un-clench a fist when I am nervous and need to do something with my hands and my daughter tap dances… yep she quietly taps out one of her routines with her fingers when she is stressed. Other stress relief techniques such as deep breathing and positive self talk can help too.
I bit my nails until I was 31. What happened when I was 31? I bought twin babies home from hospital. I no longer had time for anything extra, let alone a bad habit like nail biting. Now I wouldn’t recommend having twins as a nail biting cure for anyone, let alone kids, but staying busy doing other kid-friendly stuff is very helpful.
Keep your nails short.
I know, I know, if you bite your nails they are already short right? Well yes, but they are often ragged and uneven and that makes you even more likely to pick at them and bite them. So spend time trimming and filing nails so they are super short and harder to bite, and nice and smooth.
Encourage strong healthy nail growth.
Keeping your nails short also helps them grow stronger, and strong, healthy nails are harder to bite and less likely to be picked at so do everything you can do to encourage strong healthy nails and cuticles. Use creams and lotions (coconut oil rubbed into the nail bed worked well for my daughter), buff nails, use a serum or polish (but not one that chips or flakes as they encourages more picking at the nails), and give the nails and nail bed a good scrub with a scrubbing brush each night in the bath to encourage healthy skin.
Remind in a gentle fun way
Nagging at your child to stop biting their nails may just make it worse. If it ups their stress levels, or makes them feel bad about themselves they may bite their nails even more. But I know the intention is good – our child wants to stop biting their nails and we want them to stop too – so lets remind and support them in a gentle, fun way instead.
Use a code word, make it something funny and ridiculous, and each time you see them biting or picking at their nails say the code word. When I’d notice my daughter biting her nails I’d sneak up behind her and whisper “smooshal” in her ear… or act like a spy and walk past her and say “the eagle has landed… I repeat… the eagle has landed.” It made her laugh, and roll her eyes and remind her to do something else with her hands.
My daughter used to bite her nails till her fingers bled, but these days she has pretty much kicked the habit, and so have I
We still occasionally chew and nibble, and I think we will probably always have the tendency towards the habit, but now we know how to keep on top of it.
Do your kids bite their nails?
Have you got any great tips for helping them to stop nail biting?
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
Beverley Robinson says
Shellac nails have solved the problem for me; I have them done professionally every six weeks. $25. I use rubber gloves when washing up, which protects the polish and the nails and they last up to six weeks with care and I keep them filed.
Sangeetha menon says
keeping the nails short is the best solution. It works.
I’m a nail biter too – or I was until I had mild morning sickness all day every day for the full 9 months of my third pregnancy. I was so nauseous I didn’t even bite my nails! Now I still do, but only when I’m really distracted – usually while reading a book, or sometimes watching TV.
Unfortunately, my son has picked up the habit. I love the code word idea. Thank you.
My daughter is 5 and was a nail biter. I told her if she made it to the next school holidays with white bits at the end of her nails to show she wasn’t biting them I’d paint them any colour she wanted. It worked and luckily seems to have broken the habit too! We’d nagged and threatened the nasty tasting stuff before that but seems the positive reward (bribery!!) worked!!