Children usually bite their nails for one of two reasons – they have either picked up the habit from watching other children do it, or it can be a reaction to stress and anxiety. Either way it is a nasty habit with many children following it through to adulthood.
We may wonder how a child can be anxious enough to lead her to the point where she chews most of her nails off, but the reality of this is that many children are placed in such situations. It may be parents divorcing, fighting at home, being bullied, the arrival of a new sibling, too much pressure to participate in many extramural activities at school, death in the family or of a pet or even a recent move of home or change of school.
An very unhygienic habit
Although not fatal, nail biting is extremely unhygienic. Children who bite their nails may increase their risk for catching colds, diarrhoea, worms or other illnesses. Usually the cuticles and skin around the nails are bitten too which can often lead to skin infections.
Nagging at your child to stop this habit will have no effect other than to make them more adamant to continue. But by working with your child you will have a good chance of helping her stop.
Ask your youngster what is upsetting her and through questioning and play, you may discover the reason is something that you can easily talk through with her.
It’s not bribery
Get her to agree that biting her nails is really not a nice thing and between the two of you create a reward system where you can promise to take her somewhere of her choice or buy her a new dress if she manages to grow her nails to a certain length by a given date. It is not bribery, but merely giving her an incentive to help her on her way.
Spend some girl time together and give each other a manicure. If her nails are less chewed up she may feel more inclined to grow them. She will also see how nice your nails look, whether they are short or long.
Most nail biters are seldom aware that they are even biting their nails so it would not be a bad idea to purchase the clear varnish that has a bitter taste specifically made for nail biters. This will remind her when she starts to bite her nails each time.
Talk on her level
Explain the health risks of her biting her nails, but make sure you talk to her on her level and not from an authoritative point.
Don’t do regular -mom-checks , but rather notice her nails in passing and when you see an improvement, compliment her.
Having said all of this, keep in mind that you need to be encouraging and patient. These suggestions can work if you’re consistent and if you give them time. If none of them do and you feel your child is showing extreme anxiety or distress, or is biting her nails so badly that they’re bleeding, talk with your doctor about consulting a mental health professional.