8 Strategies That Can Help Your Kids to Stop Nail Biting (2022)

If your child bites their nails, they're not the only one. Around 50% of children between 10 and 18 bite their nails at least occasionally, and for many kids, the habit starts even younger.

It’s one of the most common “nervous habits,” a category that also includes hair-twisting, nose-picking, and thumb-sucking. Formally, it's characterized as a body-focused repetitive behavior.While some kids bite their nails because they are fidgety, others don't know what else to do when they feel anxious. Fingernail biting can be self-soothing.

In addition to being unpleasant to witness, nail-biting could do some damage to your child’s teeth and nails. So, if your child is particularly aggressive when they're gnawing on their nails, it may be important to address the issue with their dentist.

For the most part, nail-biting doesn’t create any serious health issues—and it usually isn't a sign of a deeper-rooted issue. Instead, it's just a little nervous habit that often drives parents nuts.

Strategies for Stopping

Since most kids eventually outgrow nail-biting, some parents find the best approach is to simply ignore it. But for other parents, looking the other way is just too hard to do.

If nail biting has started out of the blue, consider whether your child might be experiencing anxiety or stress. Keep in mind that some positive events, such as being promoted to a new reading group or getting a new pet, can be stressful for kids.

If biting their nails seems to be a bad habit, there are a few ways to work with your child to discourage the behavior:

  1. Cut nails daily. Cutting your child’s nails lessens the surface area under the nails—and means less dirt, grime, and bacteria can collect under the nail and get into their mouth. Take good care of the cuticles, too; bacteria can get into the skin surrounding the nail and cause infection. Keep a small nail file or clippers handy. Sometimes, a snagged nail is simply too much for a child to resist.
  2. Find a substitute. Look for something healthy your child may be able to put into their mouth. For an older child, it might be regular snacking on crunchy celery and carrot sticks. Just make sure you don’t substitute nail-biting for sugary snacks or you'll be trading one bad habit for another.
  3. Give your child something else to focus on. Find something that will keep your child’s fingers active. They might like to gently stroke a smooth worry stone that they can keep in their pocket, squeeze a small stress ball, or fidget with Silly Putty. This allows them to focus on the texture and feel of what’s in their hands, rather than on the sound and feel of biting their nails.
  4. Pick a subtle signal between the two of you. When you see your child nibbling, lightly touch them on the arm or use a code word that will alert them without announcing it to everyone else. This will help them to become more aware of when they are doing it—after all, so many of these nervous habits are done subconsciously.
  5. Create a reward system. Establish a sticker chart and mark off every day that your child doesn’t bite their nails. If your child can't make it a whole day, you may need to break the day down into smaller chunks of time, like “before breakfast” or “during dinner.” Once they collect a specific amount of stickers, give a reward—like a trip to the park for five stickers.
  6. Book a manicure. Your child might be excited to get their nails painted. Not only can it become parent-child bonding time, but the compliments they will get on their nails might discourage the biting habit.
  7. Try bite-averting nail polish. These taste terrible or burn a little when your child bites their nails. (Be careful, though, as some have acetone or cayenne pepper in them, which can hurt quite a bit if your kid rubs their eyes.) Talk to your child’s physician or a pharmacist to learn about the safest options. The bad taste will at least make your child more conscious of the habit.
  8. Allow for natural consequences. Keep in mind that natural consequences can be good teachers. So, if your child occasionally causes their fingers to become sore from biting their nails too short, the pain may motivate them to stop biting their nails in the future.

Stopping Gross Infant and Toddler Behaviors

Avoid Making the Habit Worse

Calling too much attention to your child’s bad habits is likely to backfire and their nail-biting may get even worse. Punishing your child or embarrassing them for biting their nails also won’t be effective in helping them change their habits.

(Video) What To Do When Your Child Bites To Actually Get Them to Stop

Help your child manage their nail-biting but don’t get too wrapped up in making them stop. Yelling or telling them that they're “gross” won’t help.

Helping your child put an end to biting their nails will be much more effective if they're on board with the plan. If they're not particularly motivated to quit, your efforts aren't likely to be successful. So, be patient with them and if they're not interested in stopping, you may need to wait until they are.

You might broach the subject from time to time by saying something like, "I notice you bite your nails a lot. Do kids at school ever seem to notice?" Mentioning that other people might see them doing this might make them a bit more aware of others perceive them.

Similarly, you might ask them, "It looks like your fingers get sore sometimes when you bite your nails so much. Do you ever wish you didn't do that?"

If your child is invested in giving up the habit, work together on coming up with a plan to help them. They might say they want a specific reward if they can grow their nails long enough that you can have to cut them (as opposed to chewing them off before they can grow).

Be Patient

Nail-biting may get better at times and then get worse again. That’s often part of the process of getting rid of a bad habit. However, over time, your child’s nail-biting is likely to subside.

Bad habits are hard to break. If your child gets down on themself for biting their nails, remind them that you are in this together. And before you get too frustrated, remind yourself, too—this is probably only a phase.

Is It Safe to Paint Your Toddler's Nails?

(Video) How To Stop Your Child From Nail Biting

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Michigan Medicine. Nail biting.

    (Video) How to Stop Biting Your Nails

  2. University of Utah Health. How can I get my child to stop biting her nails?.

  3. Marouane O, Ghorbel M, Nahdi M, Necibi A, Douki N. New approach to managing onychophagia.Case Rep Dent. 2016;2016:5475462. doi:10.1155/2016/5475462

8 Strategies That Can Help Your Kids to Stop Nail Biting (1)

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.

FAQs

What are good habits to stop biting nails? ›

How to stop biting your nails
  • Keep your nails trimmed short. Having less nail provides less to bite and is less tempting.
  • Apply bitter-tasting nail polish to your nails. ...
  • Get regular manicures. ...
  • Replace the nail-biting habit with a good habit. ...
  • Identify your triggers. ...
  • Try to gradually stop biting your nails.

How do you keep a kid from biting? ›

Address the issue each time it happens, firmly reiterating that biting hurts and isn't allowed. You can say something like “no biting” or “stop biting” and immediately and calmly move the biting child to where they cannot bite again. Consistent correction can help curb the behavior.

Why do kids bite their nails? ›

Your child may bite his nails for any number of reasons – curiosity, boredom, stress relief, habit, or imitation. Nail-biting is the most common of the so-called "nervous habits," which include thumb-sucking, nose picking, hair twisting or tugging, and teeth grinding.

How do I stop biting my fingers? ›

Natural treatments
  1. massage.
  2. acupuncture.
  3. hypnosis.
  4. stress reduction activities such as exercise, breathing exercises, and other healthy lifestyle choices.
  5. replacement behaviors, such as chewing gum instead of biting skin.

What is your good habit? ›

Good habits are those repetitive actions or behaviors you want to repeat. They have positive physical, emotional, or psychological consequences. Bad habits are those actions you repeat that have negative consequences. Some bad habits are harmless, while others can have a deeper, long-term impact.

How do I take care of my nails? ›

To keep your fingernails looking their best:
  1. Keep fingernails dry and clean. This prevents bacteria from growing under your fingernails. ...
  2. Practice good nail hygiene. Use a sharp manicure scissors or clippers. ...
  3. Use moisturizer. ...
  4. Apply a protective layer. ...
  5. Ask your doctor about biotin.

What is a nail biter called? ›

What is onychophagia? Onychophagia is the clinical name for fingernail biting. It is a common stress-related or nervous habit in children and adults.

Why does my 5 year old bite her nails? ›

Your child may bite her nails for many reasons -- out of curiosity or boredom, to relieve stress, to pass the time, or from force of habit. Nail biting is the most common of the so-called "nervous habits," which include thumb sucking, nose picking, hair twisting or tugging, and tooth grinding.

What is the cause of biting nails? ›

Nail biting almost always begins in childhood. It's a behavior often associated with stress or anxiety, but it's likely more complicated than that. For instance, one theory is that it helps some people regulate their emotions — or it feels like it does anyways.

How do you stop a 5 year old from biting? ›

For starters, do what you did when your child was a toddler: Tell her firmly that biting is wrong, give her a time-out to reinforce the lesson, and try to head off the hunger, fatigue, or frustration that loosens her self-control so she's more likely to behave badly.

How do you stop a 4 year old from biting? ›

What to do when your preschooler bites
  1. Make sure both children are safe. ...
  2. Stay calm, set boundaries, and don't blame or punish. ...
  3. Help both children. ...
  4. Encourage your preschooler to come to you when she's upset. ...
  5. Talk about what happened. ...
  6. Think about when and why your child bites. ...
  7. Watch your child closely.

How do I get my 10 year old to stop hitting? ›

Reinforcing good behaviors with positive consequences can encourage your child to stop hitting. For example, reward your child for using "gentle touches.” Break the day up into several time periods where he can earn stickers or tokens for good behaviors. You can also praise your child when they use gentle touches.

Why has my 7 year old started biting? ›

They're frustrated.

Biting, like hitting, is a way for some children to assert themselves when they're still too young to express feelings effectively through words. To your child, biting is a way to get back a favorite toy, tell you that they are unhappy, or let another child know that they want to be left alone.

How long does it take to stop biting nails? ›

You cannot expect yourself to stop biting your nails overnight. In fact, you may have heard how it takes 21 days to break a habit. This figure was popularized by a 1960s book called “The New Psycho Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz.

Why do kids bite? ›

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Toddlers have many strong emotions that they are just learning to manage. Toddlers may bite to express anger or frustration or because they lack the language skills needed to express their feelings. Biting is less common in preschoolers than toddlers.

When is nail biting a problem? ›

A: Doctors classify chronic nail biting as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder since the person has difficulty stopping. People often want to stop and make multiple attempts to quit without success. People with onychophagia cannot stop the behavior on their own, so it's not effective to tell a loved one to stop.

What happens when you bite your nails too much? ›

Regularly biting your nails can cause your teeth to shift out of place, which can require correctional braces or a retainer. Nail biting could also cause your teeth to break or could damage your tooth enamel. The germs could also potentially infect, or cause irritation, to your gums.

When does nail biting start? ›

Biting nails typically doesn't begin before the age of 4, but many cases seem to start between the ages of 4 and 6. Boys tend to bite their nails more than girls. In other words, your nail-biting habit may have begun as early as when you were a child. For many people, it's a habit that continues into adulthood.

What is another word for nail biting? ›

In this page you can discover 11 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for nail-biting, like: cliff hanging, nailbiting, suspenseful, suspensive, five-game, , thrilling, nip and tuck, hard fought, rain-affected and sudden-death.

Do fingernails digest in your stomach? ›

Additionally, if you swallow the nails, they can do damage to the epithelial lining of your esophagus and stomach. They will not digest, so if they're sharp, they will make their way through your entire body potentially scratching up your digestive tract.

Why do I bite my lip? ›

What causes lip biting? In some cases, physical conditions can cause a person to bite their lips when they use their mouth for talking or chewing. In other cases, the cause can be psychological. People may bite their lip as a physical response to an emotional state, such as stress, fear, or anxiety.

What are 10 good habits for kids? ›

10 Healthy Habits For Your Kids
  • Don't skip breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. ...
  • Wash hands always. Hand-washing tops the list when it comes to getting your child into healthy habits. ...
  • Teach toilet manners. ...
  • Be active. ...
  • Organise family time. ...
  • Brush twice daily. ...
  • Get them to sleep well. ...
  • Limit screen time.
27 May 2018

What are the 50 good habits? ›

50 Simple habits for a happier, healthier life
  • Rid your home of clutter and keep it tidy. ...
  • Wear sunblock every day. ...
  • Boost your brain power with dark chocolate. ...
  • Give more hugs. ...
  • Get a massage once a month. ...
  • Spend time in nature. ...
  • Spend 10-15 minutes of one-on-one time with each of your children, each day. ...
  • Wash your face every night.
24 Jan 2018

Why are my nails yellow? ›

With yellow nail syndrome, nails thicken and new growth slows. This results in a yellowish discoloration of the nails. Nails affected by yellow nail syndrome might lack a cuticle and detach from the nail bed in places. Yellow nail syndrome is often a sign of respiratory disease, such as chronic bronchitis.

How long should nails be? ›

The accepted rule of thumb is the nail length should be 21/2 times the thickness of the wood you are nailing through.

What good are nails? ›

Biotin. Biotin is a B-complex vitamin, also known as vitamin B7, coenzyme R and vitamin H. It promotes healthy cell growth and aids in the metabolism of protein-building amino acids that are essential for nail growth. Biotin-rich foods and supplements may help strengthen your brittle fingernails.

Is nail biting a mental illness? ›

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, categorizes chronic nail biting as other specified obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), classified in the same group as compulsive lip biting, nose picking, and hair pulling (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Is eating your nails good for you? ›

When you bite your nails, those bacteria end up in your mouth and gut, where they can cause gastro-intestinal infections that lead to diarrhea and abdominal pain. Long-term, habitual nail nibblers can also suffer from a type of infection called paronychia, Scher says.

Does nail biting affect your health? ›

Nail biting can lead to chronic teeth grinding.

“Nail biting can increase the likelihood of developing a chronic teeth-grinding habit known as bruxism. Teeth grinding can lead to other oral health problems including headaches, jaw soreness, and TMJ syndrome,” adds Dr.

Is nail biting a symptom of ADHD? ›

Women with ADHD are also prone to developing Borderline Personality Disorder which affects the way women perceive themselves and others. There can also be physical manifestations of the anxiety caused by ADHD such as headache, nausea, nail-biting or cuticle-picking.

What is it called when you bite the skin on your fingers? ›

Dermatophagia is a psychological condition in which a person compulsively bites, chews, gnaws, or eats their skin. It often affects the skin around people's fingers. Dermatophagia is an emerging concept in mental health research.

What is biting nails in psychology? ›

Nail-biting is frequently associated with anxiety, because the act of chewing on nails reportedly relieves stress, tension, or boredom. People who habitually bite their nails often report that they do so when they feel nervous, bored, lonely, or even hungry.

Can nail biting cause permanent damage? ›

Your fingernails may never grow back the same. Biting your nails down too far isn't just a bad look that lasts a couple of days, it can lead to permanent damage. Onycholysis, the separation of the fingernail from its nail bed, is a common nail disorder.

At what age should a child stop biting? ›

Biting is a normal part of childhood and a way for young children to test limits or express their feelings. Many children show signs of this behavior as early as their first birthday and usually stop biting around 3 years of age.

Is hitting a 4 year old normal? ›

When they lack the ability to express what's wrong in words, hitting and other types of aggression sometimes result. It is developmentally normal for toddlers to hit. It is the parent's job to supervise and handle toddlers kindly and firmly until they are ready to learn more effective ways to communicate.

Why does my 1 year old bite me? ›

Expressing feelings is just plain hard for a toddler because a 1-year-old can't make himself understood verbally. “Toddlers don't have the language skills to express how they feel, so they bite to create a stir, to express excitement, or to say that they are frustrated, anxious, or bored,” says Dr.

What is a biting policy? ›

If a biting/pushing incident occurs, state regulations require that the parent of the child biting/pushing and the parent of the child who was bitten/pushed be contacted. Names of the children are not shared with either parent.

Is biting normal for a 5 year old? ›

Biting is a normal part of childhood development. Yes, it is very upsetting for adults. Yes, it can be frightening for the child who bites. Yes, it is upsetting to the child that is bitten and yes, it makes adults angry, but biting is a normal part of childhood development.

Why is my 5 year old biting things? ›

It's common for chewing to help focus because it's a repetitive motion and can block out other distractions. Boredom/Habit – Some kids will chew on the sleeve or collar of their shirt and not even realize they are doing it. For other kids, chewing can be a way to cope.

Why do kids hit herself? ›

Some kids crave physical sensory experiences more than others or have a slightly dulled sense of pain; in response, they might turn to hitting themselves to fulfill the desire for physical stimulation. Some kids also turn to repetitive physical movements as a way of self-soothing when they're stressed or tired.

Why do kids hit other kids? ›

Hitting can be a way of getting you to notice them more - a misguided one to our adult eyes, but for toddlers and preschoolers, often any attention is seen as worth courting. Other causes include tiredness, hunger or feeling scared.

Why does my 3 year old hit me and laugh? ›

Our children's fears cause hitting.

Laughter is one of the ways children release their feelings of fear, so hitting is sometimes accompanied by laughter—your child is trying hard to release tension, but can't laugh it away fast enough to stop themselves from launching a hit or two.

What does nail biting represent? ›

Nail-biting is frequently associated with anxiety, because the act of chewing on nails reportedly relieves stress, tension, or boredom. People who habitually bite their nails often report that they do so when they feel nervous, bored, lonely, or even hungry.

When is nail biting a problem? ›

A: Doctors classify chronic nail biting as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder since the person has difficulty stopping. People often want to stop and make multiple attempts to quit without success. People with onychophagia cannot stop the behavior on their own, so it's not effective to tell a loved one to stop.

Why do children bite? ›

Toddlers have many strong emotions that they are just learning to manage. Toddlers may bite to express anger or frustration or because they lack the language skills needed to express their feelings. Biting is less common in preschoolers than toddlers.

Can nail biting cause permanent damage? ›

Your fingernails may never grow back the same. Biting your nails down too far isn't just a bad look that lasts a couple of days, it can lead to permanent damage. Onycholysis, the separation of the fingernail from its nail bed, is a common nail disorder.

What is a nail biter called? ›

What is onychophagia? Onychophagia is the clinical name for fingernail biting. It is a common stress-related or nervous habit in children and adults.

Why does my 5 year old bite her nails? ›

Your child may bite her nails for many reasons -- out of curiosity or boredom, to relieve stress, to pass the time, or from force of habit. Nail biting is the most common of the so-called "nervous habits," which include thumb sucking, nose picking, hair twisting or tugging, and tooth grinding.

Is biting your nails good for you? ›

It's bad for your teeth

Nail biting could also cause your teeth to break or could damage your tooth enamel. The germs could also potentially infect, or cause irritation, to your gums. Also, the bacteria that is on your fingers or nails can linger in your mouth and cause halitosis, or bad breath.

Can you eat fingernails? ›

It's unsanitary: Your nails harbor bacteria and germs, and are almost twice as dirty as fingers. What's more, swallowing dirty nails can lead to stomach problems. 2. It wears down your teeth: Gnawing your nails can put added stress on your pearly whites, which can lead to crooked teeth.

What is another word for nail biting? ›

In this page you can discover 11 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for nail-biting, like: cliff hanging, nailbiting, suspenseful, suspensive, five-game, , thrilling, nip and tuck, hard fought, rain-affected and sudden-death.

Why cant I stop biting my nails? ›

“Nail biting or picking cuticles are often nervous habits or a way to relieve stress, so by engaging in an alternative behavior when you feel the urge, especially one that keeps your hands busy, you may be able to avoid biting your nails.”

When do kids stop biting? ›

Biting is a normal part of childhood and a way for young children to test limits or express their feelings. Many children show signs of this behavior as early as their first birthday and usually stop biting around 3 years of age.

How do you stop a 5 year old from biting? ›

How can I make my preschooler stop biting? For starters, do what you did when your child was a toddler: Tell her firmly that biting is wrong, give her a time-out to reinforce the lesson, and try to head off the hunger, fatigue, or frustration that loosens her self-control so she's more likely to behave badly.

Why has my 7 year old started biting? ›

For the majority of children, biting—or any aggressive behavior, for that matter—occurs because they are simply overwhelmed by a situation. In fact, biting is the last, most aggressive option that happens when a child feels overwhelmed, and it happens because the child doesn't know what else to do.

Can I get fake nails if I bite my nails? ›

Do some cute design and you won't spoil it. However bitten your nails are they can be done providing the surrounding skin is not swollen and the skin unbroken. Sculptured acrylic nails would generally work best as this method can create an illusion that the portions of the nail is not of a nail biter.

How long does it take to stop biting nails? ›

You cannot expect yourself to stop biting your nails overnight. In fact, you may have heard how it takes 21 days to break a habit. This figure was popularized by a 1960s book called “The New Psycho Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz.

Do fingernails digest in your stomach? ›

Additionally, if you swallow the nails, they can do damage to the epithelial lining of your esophagus and stomach. They will not digest, so if they're sharp, they will make their way through your entire body potentially scratching up your digestive tract.

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