Kids and Nail-Biting

Ann Douglas's picture

by Ann Douglas

little boy chewing fingernailDoes your child have a nail-biting habit? Learn why it happens and how you can help your little nibbler stop.

Nail biting is a fairly common habit in children. It may be stress-related, a habit that has emerged from thumb-sucking in early childhood, a habit copied from other children, or a way of dealing with nails that are too long or have rough edges.

Most of the time, nail-biting is no big deal (at least from a health perspective). Occasionally, nail-biting can result in bleeding, a bacterial infection, warts around the nail area, or permanent nail damage.

Cutting to the Cause

The best way to deal with nail-biting is to address the underlying cause. If the nail-biting is stress-related, deal with the root causes of the stress.

If your child is biting her nails because her nails are bothering her (they are too long or they have rough edges), keep her nails well trimmed and file the ends.

It is not helpful to scold a child for biting her nails or to take other steps that can seem punitive to a child like forcing her to wear gloves so she can't bite her nails. Doing so can be harmful to self-esteem and will only draw attention to the habit, thereby reinforcing it rather than eliminating it.

Most children stop biting their nails on their own. If your daughter decides, as she enters the preteen or teen years, that she'd like a little help breaking this habit, that's the time to suggest over-the-counter products that are approved for curing nail biting (the paint-on solution makes your nails taste terrible) or traditional methods (wearing gloves at times when she's prone to biting her nails unconsciously: for example, when she's talking on the phone).

It's important to let her be the one to make the decisions about addressing her nail-biting habit. That won't happen until she's considerably older.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site, having-a-baby.com.

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org.