How to stop nail biting in children

How to stop nail biting in children

Nail biting in children is a tale as old as time, but it doesn’t mean you should just accept it. Nibbling on those nails can be damaging to health and wellbeing, as well as point to underlying problems. Decided it’s time to nip it in the bud? Here’s some tips on how to stop nail biting in children.

Why do children bite their nails?

First things first, it’s useful to know why our children end up nibbling on their nails.

Like thumb-sucking, hair twisting and nose picking, nail biting is a common habit for children. These behaviors are known as ‘nervous habits’ – although, confusingly, that doesn’t actually mean your child is nervous. Most children bite their nails when they are feeling bored or curious, to pass the time, to relieve stress or simply as a force of habit. So, nail biting can be caused by a multitude of issues, and the most important thing is encouraging them to stop without it turning into an unhelpful nag-fest.

Here’s our top tips on how to stop nail biting in children:

1. Give those nails a daily trim

Dirt, bacteria and all sorts of other nasties love long nails. These particles love to hide under the nails in wait for your child to get nibbling and pass them into the mouth. So the best thing to do is trim your child’s nails every day, so if they do bite them the damage is minimal.

2. Create a new, healthier habit

Like every habit, nail biting is a tough one to quit, so replacing it with a healthy one can be a good tactic! Try introducing regular snacks of crunchy carrot, cucumber and apple sticks (keep it healthy) as they can replicate the ‘crunch’ they get when biting their nails.

A small stress ball or some silly putty can work in the same way, giving your child something else to focus on when they’re feeling fidgety or worried.

3. Find a ‘secret’ signal to stop them biting

Nail biting can often be subconscious, so coming up with a way to make your child aware of their biting can be useful. Try lightly tapping your child’s arm or leg when they are biting their nails without telling anybody else. Keep it friendly and avoid scolding them, this is only to make them more aware of their biting.

4. Reward each little victory

Who doesn’t love a good sticker chart? They can be a fun and useful way to reward your child for not biting their nails. Choose a time marker, e.g. day, half a day and give your child a sticker if they manage not to bite their nails during this time. Once they have earned a specific number of stickers, give them an award like a trip to the cinema or a toy they’ve had their eye on for a while.

5. Book them in for a manicure

This won’t work for all children, but some little ones would jump at the chance to get a ‘grown-up’ manicure. Whether you book them into a child-friendly salon or go DIY at home, see if your child would be up for a manicure and use it as a reward. It’s a great opportunity to bond, too!

6. Try an anti-nail-biting treatment

We’re sure you’ve heard of those gross-tasting nail varnishes that help people to stop biting their nails. They work by ‘punishing’ the nail biter when they get nibbling with a horrible taste – not only stopping the biter in their tracks, but also forming a negative association with the act over time. It’s normal to be hesitant about using this with children, though, as it’s not them choosing to do it themselves.

Perhaps you’d prefer a more natural take on anti-nail biting treatments? Take a look at our DIY nail-biting treatments and try some out with your kids. Please be careful though, and avoid if you child has broken skin as the ingredients could aggravate it. Also, avoid the spicy ingredients as kids could touch their eyes and hurt themselves.

7. Most importantly, be positive

Making a big deal out of your child’s nail biting, shouting at them or punishing them might cause your child to bite their nails even more. Skip the ‘it’s gross’ lecture, shaming them won’t make it better. Instead, try and get your child on board using rewards, an encouraging attitude, etc. and be patient. It’s hard enough for adults to kick a habit, so a child may find it even harder. Just keep at it and find a way that suits your and your child in helping them give up nail biting once and for all!

Last updated: 29 April 2020

Children's HealthHand & Nail CareNail Health