How to help children stop biting their nails?

Updated: September 29, 2023

One of the most common questions that we get is, “how can I help my son or daughter stop biting his/hers nails?” most parents and children don’t really know how to stop nail biting. I will start with the good news that we always tell parents: nail-biting among children is very common! how common? well 45% of all children bite their nails. The severity of the damage is diverse, some children cause extensive and irreversible damage to their nails and cuticles while others cause only mild damage that will be gone once the nail-biting stops. Some children also bite the nails of their feet, usually the thumbnail since it is easier to reach. many parents aren’t aware of the fact that their children bite their nails, and are even sure that their child never bites his /her feet nails, this is since this activity is almost always being done privately at the child’s room away from the parents’ eyes. Well where are the good news??? the good news is that after adolescence only 25% of the population suffers from nail-biting. it means that 44% of all children will stop biting their nails after the adolescence period. However we do understand parents that don’t want to take the chance and wake up after a few years after their child has an accumulated damage that is irreversible. So what can be done? children who are 13 years of age and above can use the dental nail-biting deterrent devices, and stop biting their nails for good within two months. The more challenging case is with children who are below the age of 13, in young children we recommend using the following stages:

1.Stage A: Observe

look at your child’s nails and cuticles and assess the severity of the damage that has been done. Try to look at the feet, to understand whether or not your child bites his/her feet nails and cuticles.

2. Stage B: Talk with your child
Find the right calm moment to address your child and ask him/her a few questions: a. Do you want to stop biting your nails? b. Do other children in the class/kindergarten bite their nails? c. Do other children ask you questions about the looks of your nails? d. What do you think of other children that bite their nails? e. Do you bite the nails of your feet?

3. Stage C: Get your child’s cooperation
First I must emphasize that you mustn’t try to force your child to stop biting his/her nails since it won’t work and it will only cause frustration to all sides. If your child refuses to cooperate try to explain to him the importance of stopping to bite the nails using a few logical arguments:
A. Health –
nail-biting increases the chances of viral or germinal contamination, especially at times when pandemics like the covid19 are present.
B. Pain –
ask your child if he bleeds as a result of biting his/her nails and does he feel pain from time to time as a result of biting his nails.
C. Social reason –
some people might be appalled or disgusted by the looks of bitten nails and think that the child has a disease or an innate deformity. Some people think that nails biters are not clean and are disgusted to shake the hands of a nail biter. Some people will not date a person who bites his nails (ironically many nail biters admit they won’t date a nail biter)
D. Physiological reason –
some damages are irreversible, the most common irreversible damages are permanent separation of the nail from the nail bed and permanent nail deformities. The human body is amazing but it can’t do wonders and it is not forgiving when it comes to ruining the nail bed.

4. Stage D: Start the process
If you succeded in harnessing your child to the process, the next stage is to explain to him/her that you are going to sit every evening together (one on one) and do a few things:
Take photos of the hands of your child, and save them in a special folder. after a few days you could start comparing the current pictures with the initial ones. pay attention to the date of the images.
If your daughter is a nail biter, put some nail polish on her fingernails, use different colors and make some drawings the she will not want to ruin. For example you can draw nice flowers on each nail (I’m sure you will find many youtube tutorials, demonstrations and howtos on the web, you can watch them with your daughter to get her enthusiasm).
Gently file the nails and rough cuticles using a gentle file and buffer. You need to reach a perfectly smooth sensation when you touch the nails and cuticles of your child. You must understand that nail biters are perfectionist regarding the feel of their nails and cuticles – as long as the texture is not perfectly smooth your child won’t stop biting his/her nails. This kind of a perfect smooth texture can be achieved only by using nail buffers. Nail buffers usually come in a few stages, when you use the buffer on the rough edges of the nails and cuticles do it swiftly, heat will be generated as a result of the friction.
If your child is old enough you must explain to him/her how to to use the nails and buffers and equip him/her with them. Your child should have nails and buffers wherever he/she goes. Rough edges of nails and cuticles might appear throughout the day, they should be filed and then smoothed using the buffers the minute they are felt. If your child can’t learn how to file and buff his nails on his own you should do it for him/her every day during your daily meeting.
If you see that your child bit his nails don’t scold him/her, as will it only lead to antagonism. Explain the importance of the process and comfort him/her instead. This process might help your child to stop biting his/hers nails, however in severe cases, your child will not be able to stop biting his nails this way, you have nothing to lose, in the worst case, you had a good one-on-one daily meeting with your child and temporarily minimized the damage.

Help Children to Stop Biting their Nails

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