Nail Health - Good Nails and How to Stop Nail Biting
Nail-biting is mostly a harmless habit that most children pick up naturally as they grow older. Most kids quit on their own with the passage of time, but some carry it to their teens and adulthood.
It is estimated that almost 50% of children between the ages of 10 – 18 bite their nails. This fact is as annoying as the habit itself, and it’s up to us parents to find out the causes and the remedy to help children get over it.
But before figuring out the How, it is always good to figure out the Why. Once the causes are established, the solution appears readily.
Causes of Nail Biting in Kids
Children may bite their nails for various reasons like anxiety, stress, boredom and comfort. Here are a few of the common reasons:
Biting nails is often a self-soothing action for toddlers and infants which is a natural action. It gives them comfort when they are on their own. In a way, it’s a step up from thumb-sucking that develops with age.
Kids also bite nails when they are bored or engaged in a monotonous activity. They can also do this if they are not engaged in an activity and when their hands are free like when watching television.
- Relief action from anxiety and stress
Nail biting is also triggered by situations of stress and anxiety at home or in school.
Children imitate action quickly. They could pick up nail biting watching a classmate, sibling or family member.
There is a possibility that the habits of parents pass on to kids through genes. If a parent was a nail biter as a kid, there are chances that the kid might be one too.
How to get your kids to stop biting nails?
We offer some tried and tested home remedies to combat nail biting.
- Address anxieties: If you think your child bites his nails more often when he is stressed or anxious because of a domestic situation or events at school, take time out to talk. Figure out when your kid is in the right mood for conversation and connect to discuss his worries.
- Trim nails regularly: Trimming nails is a good strategy to supress the urge to bite nails. Once there are no rough edges to gnaw at, chances are the act will stop.
- Offer an alternative: How about giving them something else that shifts the focus from biting nails to release stress and anxiety? A stress ball for example. It’s great for stress reduction and will keep their hands busy. Other options for keeping those little hands busy are arts and crafts, outdoor activities, and sports.
- Make them conscious: Nail biting is a mostly unconscious habit, and most children are unaware they are doing it. Hence, they might be surprised if you shout at them asking them to stop. Instead, have a meaningful discussion about what causes a child to bite nails and the danger from germs. Devise secret ways like a code word to remind them when they do it to prevent embarrassment in public.
- Reward and appreciation: If your child is making progress by doing something positive instead of nail biting to bust stress or anxiety, reward him or her by showing your appreciation. Take them out for ice cream or go for a movie. There’s nothing more children like than attention from parents and this could be the solution.
- Patience: Nobody said parenting was easy! So keep at it as we know it can be really frustrating to get your kid to stop biting those nails. Old habits die hard, and not all strategies will work with all kids. The only thing is to be patient with children.
- The Bitter Taste Trick: Child-safe liquids are available in medical stores that have been devised to bust the nail-biting habit. Your paediatrician could recommend one. Apply it to their nails and watch the bitter taste make them stop.
- Don’t make a Fuss: If you create too much of a ruckus, the children can pick up your anxiety. It is best not to make a big deal out of it in front of them as they might engage in the bad habit further to seek your attention.
Thankfully, nail-biting mostly does not raise or create any serious health issues or concerns. It’s just a little nervous habit in children that often makes parents nervous and drives them nuts.
Some Frequently asked questions are answered here!
What does it mean when toddlers bite their nails?
Toddlers usually bite their nails when they're stressed or bored. But the more you nag, scold or pull his fingers from his mouth, the more likely he'll persist in chomping away.
Is biting your nails a mental disorder?
Nail biting is very common, especially amongst children. 25-30 % of kids bite nails. More pathological forms of nails biting are considered an impulse control disorder in the DSM-IV-R and are classified under obsessive-compulsive and related disorders in the DSM-5.
How do I stop my toddler from biting his nails?
- Cut their nails daily.
- Find a substitute.
- Give your child something else to focus on.
- Pick a subtle signal between the two of you that will nudge her to stop biting.
- Create a reward system.
- Book a manicure..
- Try bite-averting nail polish.
- Allow for natural consequences.
Is Nail biting a sign of autism?
Self-stimulation, or "stimming", is another common term for repetitive behaviour. Typical examples include hand waving, teeth grinding, rocking movements and nail biting. In some cases, it can involve self-injurious behaviours such as head banging, self-biting, picking at the skin and self-hitting.
Do you have a great remedy/ strategy to stop kids from biting their nails? Something we’ve missed out perhaps? We’d love to hear from you. Do share your thoughts so we can share them with everyone else.