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How Can I Get My Child to Stop Biting Her Nails?

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How Can I Get My Child to Stop Biting Her Nails?

Mar 19, 2019

Nail biting is a common habit, but usually not a serious one for most children. Most children who bite their nails eventually lose the habit, but some may continue well into adulthood. In more serious situations, nail biting can lead to health concerns. There is no prescription to stop nail biting, but it can be addressed. Dr. Cindy Gellner talks about the reasons why nail biting occurs and offers suggestions on how to help your child stop biting her nails.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: I often get asked, "How can I get my child to stop biting their nails?" It's tricky. but here are some tips.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering The Healthy Kids Zone with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: Nail biting is a common habit and it's usually not a serious problem for most children. Almost half of all teens still bite their nails. Most children who bite their nails eventually stop the habit. But some may actually continue to do it well into adulthood. Some of the reasons children bite their nails includes stress or anxiety, they are bored, they've seen other children do it and copy their behaviors, or their nails are not kept trimmed and they do it as a form of self-trimming.

Most children that bite their nails have no problems. In some cases, nail biting may cause a bacterial infection called paronychia, which requires a doctor's visit for antibiotics. If your child has warts, they can get around the nail beds. Children touch everything and then, if they put their fingers in their mouth, they can get sick because they have just introduced germs into their body. And some children who bite their nails for years can cause permanent nail damage.

So how can you help your child to stop biting their nails? I have actually been asked to prescribe medication someone found on the Internet to get kids to stop. Sorry, no such medicine exists. Also, punishing or shaming a child for nail biting is not helpful. The best thing you can do to help your child is to try and figure out why they are biting their nails in the first place. If your child is under a lot of stress, try to reduce the stress. Talk about what is bothering them and ways to handle those situations.

Cutting long nails help some children. If there is nothing to bite on, they can't chew their nails. Direct your child's attention away from the nail-biting. It may help if your child keeps their hands busy, eats carrot sticks or chews gum. If you have an older child who wants to stop nail biting, help your child make a plan to break the habit. Some children wear gloves or put a bitter-tasting polish on the nails to remind them.

It may also help to have something else to do with their hands like playing with a worry stone or a stress ball in their pocket. Let your child decide what might help him or her break the habit. Praise your child when you see them making progress. Let girls get a manicure when they have long nails as a reward, for example. If you nag at your child, it's going to cause them more stress and it may make them bite their nails even more. Be gentle and supportive as they try to quit this behavior. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.

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updated: March 19, 2019
originally published: February 8, 2016