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Biting Nails: Is There Really a Cure?

Let's face it, most everyone bites their nails from time to time, but it's definitely not a behavior you want to encourage as a parent. You may have noticed your child biting her nails and realized that it is happening more than just once in a while. Nail biting is an extremely common habit, affecting one-third to one-half of all children. There are several reasons why children excessively bite their nails; comfort, boredom, to relieve stress, just habit. Your child may have developed the behavior from you or from someone else in the family and now unconsciously practices it.

Helping Your Child with Nail Biting

There is a reason why your child bites her nails, whether she does it unconsciously or not. She may be experiencing an underlying problem related to anxiety or stress. Try to observe the specific times your child bites her nails and correlate it to stressors that may be affecting her. You can only try to help your child break the habit, you can't control it. Here are some ways to help:

  • Explain why she shouldn't bite her nails. Make her aware of the dangers of nail biting and how unsanitary it can be. By biting her nails, children can come into contact with germs that can cause cold and the flu and she can also develop hangnails, which are prone to infection.
  • Talk to her about it. Discuss the reasons behind the nail biting. Ask her what if something is stressing her out or making her feel nervous. You might know from experience that nail biting tends to be worse when you're feeling anxious.
  • Keep her nails clean. You can't force your child to stop biting her nails but you can keep her nails trimmed and clean to help prevent the spread of germs. Dirt and debris under fingernails can be somewhat controlled by encouraging your child to frequently wash her hands. Make sure she washes her hands before eating, after playing, and after petting the family dog.
  • Keep her hands busy. Children are more likely to bite their nails when their hands aren't busy. When it's "quiet time" or "movie time," break out the coloring books and crayons just in case.
  • Consider putting a nail biting cream on your child's nails. There are many harmless products that produce a bitter taste to help remind your child not to bite.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Explain how great her nails will look if she doesn't bite them. You can encourage your little girl to stop biting her nails by painting her nails with her favorite color nail polish and telling her how beautiful they are. You can try using a reward system as well.

You can't force your child to stop biting her nails, you can only provide support and reasons why she shouldn't engage in this bad habit. By following the steps above, you should be able to tone down or eliminate your child's nail biting habit.