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Nail biting is often a harmless habit that most children pick up naturally as they grow older. Most kids quit this habit on their own over time, but some carry it on to their teens and adulthood. Nearly 50% of children between the ages of 10 – 18 bite their nails. Although it is an annoying habit, it is up to the parents to discover the underlying causes and help them get over it.
Causes of Nail Biting in Kids
Children bite their nails due to various reasons such as anxiety, stress, boredom, and comfort. Here are some of the most common reasons for child biting nails:
1. For Comfort
Infants and toddlers suck their thumb as a self-soothing action which is a natural thing to do. It provides comfort when they are playing or being on their own. The nail-biting is a modified form of thumb-sucking that develops as kids grow. Hence children and even teenagers bite their nails as it feels comforting.
Kids tend to bite their nails when there are bored or doing something monotonous. It can also be seen when they are not involved in an activity and their hands are free; during watching TV or attending a class.
3. To Relieve Anxiety and Stress
Situations at home or school that can cause stress or anxiety triggers nail-biting in children. There are plenty of stressful situations that can cause them to get anxious such as:
- Fights between family members or parents
- Loss of a family member or a close relative
- Relocating to a new city or home
- Joining a new school
- Getting bullied by other kids
- The pressure to perform well in class or sports
4. Imitating Habits of Others
Children pick up behaviours of others quickly. Nail biting is one such behaviour which is common, and when they see another sibling or a family member doing it, they imitate the habit.
There are chances that your habits get passed on to your children through your genes. If you used to bite your nails as a kid, chances are your children may bite their nails too.
How to Stop Nail Biting in a Child
Here are some effective home remedies for child nail-biting:
1. Pacify Anxiety
If you notice that your child bites his nails more often when he is stressed or anxious about issues such as changing schools, moving to a different place or conflicts within the family, take time to talk to him. Find a good time when he is in the right mood and connect with him to discuss the things he may be worried about.
2. Trim Their Nails Regularly
Trimming their nails is a good way to minimize their urge to bite them. Clip and file their nails every week, so there are no rough edges that tempt them to gnaw at it. Girls can have their nails done at a salon, so it looks all shiny and pretty. The attention and pampering her nails get can keep her from biting them again.
3. Offer an Alternative
Give them something else to release their anxiety and fidgeting. A stress ball is great for releasing anxiety. Squeezing and rolling it in their hands can give the children a better way to relax. Activities and projects that keep their hands busy is another good option. Arts and crafts along with stimulating their imagination to relieve their stress. Outdoor activities, playtime, and sports are also some of the best ways to release pent-up energy.
4. Make Them Aware of the Habit
Habits such as nail biting are mostly unconscious. Your child would not know at most times that they are doing it and hence get surprised when you yell at them to stop. Talk to the child about what causes them to bite the nail and suggest secret ways to remind them of it when they do it. This is useful when done in a subtle way, especially in public where they can get embarrassed. A tap on the shoulder or a code word only the two of you know is a good start.
5. Reward Positive Behavior
When you see that your child is making progress in the right direction by channelizing their anxiety in healthier ways, appreciate and reward them. Take them out for ice cream, just the two of you as a reward or buying them a new toy they have been wanting. Children are naturally inclined to please their parents and seek attention from them. Therefore praising their mindfulness regarding their habits or building healthy ones encourages them to repeat those.
6. Keep at It
It can be extremely frustrating to get your child to stop biting their nails. The same method may not work for all the kids, therefore try new ones over time to see what works. Habits are hard to break, and since anxiety doesn’t develop overnight, it takes a while for them to quit nail biting or establish a new release. Be patient with them. If none of the methods works and your child seems overly anxious, consult their paediatrician to help them out.
7. The Bitter Taste Trick
There are child-safe liquids available in medical stores that are made to quit the nail biting habit in children. You could ask your child’s paediatrician for a liquid and apply to their nails. Their bitter taste acts as a reminder to stop gnawing at their nails.
8. Don’t Make it a Big Deal
If you fret about their habit, they can pick up your anxiety and become edgy. They may also use that as a way to get your attention if you are not looking out for them in other ways.
Complications Related to Child Nail Biting
Following are the complications related to nail biting in children:
- Sometimes children can gnaw into their nails so deep that they often bleed that can hurt their fingers or make their gums sore.
- Nail-biting with dirty hands can lead to infections and diseases.
- Severe nail-biting can be a sign of underlying attention or anxiety problems that need to be dealt with.
Understanding why your child continues to bite their nails is half of the solution to stopping the habit. Over time, it is possible to get them to quit by reinforcing positive alternatives.
Also Read: Tips to Correct Bad Habits in Kids