My six-year old oftentimes bites his fingernails, especially when he isn’t occupied with stuff. And because he loves holding things with his hands as well – the typical six-year old, curious as they come – the nail biting bothers me immensely.
Lately, I realized he doesn’t even know he’s biting his fingernails until I tell him so.
I did some digging around on nail biting in children, and here’s what I found:
Why children bite their nails
A child may bite his fingernails for a number of reasons – boredom, out of curiosity, to relieve stress or from force of habit. Nail biting is, as it turned out, the most common of the so-called “nervous habits,” which include nose picking, hair tugging, thumb sucking and tooth grinding.
Of these, nail biting is the most likely to continue into adulthood. Breaking the habit while he is young is oftentimes the logical solution.
No matter how much parents want to shield their kids, they are still likely to go through sometimes strong but transient childhood tensions. Being a new kid in school, feeling shy at a party, not knowing how to approach other children, learning something different – these can all trigger nail biting.
And if these are primarily the times when your child bites his fingernails, except in severe cases where he intensely bites his nails that they go bloody or sore and cases accompanied by troubling behavior such as picking at his skin or pulling his hair or lashes out, there is nothing to worry about.
The child is most likely to stop nail biting on his own, in his own time.
However, if the habit goes on far longer than you’d like, or you simply can’t stand the nail biting, here are some ways to help him quit:
- Talk with your child about the habit. A new school, a new child coming or an upcoming big test can be cause for anxiety for your child. While your child may not be able to associate his nail biting with these life changes, working together may be able to help him minimize the cause of anxiety and eventually diminish the habit.
- The moment your child agrees with you that the nail biting had to stop once and for all, he is more able to commit to stop biting his fingernails. Otherwise, there’s nothing you can do to make him stop. Nagging him about the habit, or worse, punishing him, is likely to aggravate the situation.
- If your child is a girl, you can probably get her a manicure. Well-groomed nails are likely to inspire your child to the right track.
- Try gum as an alternative if you notice that the nail biting is some kind of a self-soothing technique for your child.
- Give your child something to fiddle with his hands, especially if the nail biting is caused by boredom.
- If your child is not likely to rub his eyes with his hands, consider placing some bitter-tasting liquid on his hands. Eventually, the idea of putting his fingers in his mouth and getting a bad taste may force him to stop the habit altogether.
- Encourage your child to become aware of the behavior. A tap on the shoulder or a code word you agree upon can help.
Different children prefer different methods. Generally speaking, however, the more your child feels like a partner in the endeavor, the more he is likely to succeed. And the better likelihood of avoiding a power struggle in the end.
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