I recently visited a friend who was worried about her son literally feeding on his nails. She has come from worrying about it as a habit to being concerned about the effect on his skin as well as nails. She says her child has little or close to no nails at all.
Well, none of my children has engaged into this habit yet but I relate because I know how much my mum hated this habit. I remember how she almost beat up a stranger’s child at a mall simply because they could not stop biting their nails.
Your child may bite her nails for a number of reasons – out of curiosity or boredom, to relieve stress, 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, but it is the most likely to continue into adulthood.
It is a way of relieving the intense but passing tensions of childhood. Learning something new in school or feeling shy at a concert or being bullied at a playground are common triggers. Your child will bite her nails at times like these; it’s just her way of coping with stress or comforting herself, in which case you have nothing to worry about. It’s important that you deal with the underlying source of this behavior. Find out if there is anything in the child’s life that you need to address. A recent change of environment, a divorce in the family, loss of a loved one, and the like might make your child anxious. Talk to her about her worries.
Punishment in this case is not called for. Unless your son or daughter really wants to stop biting their nails, you probably can’t do much about it. Like other nervous habits, nail biting tends to be subconscious. If your child doesn’t even know she’s doing it, nagging and punishing her are pretty useless. Even adults have a terrible time breaking out of habits like this.
Your best bet is to keep the fingernails neatly trimmed to lower the temptation to bite off ragged tips, keep hands clean to cut down exposure to germs, and trying to direct their attention to something else—like a favourite sport or a fun activity that will give them no room for the habit. Avoid use of pressure lest you add to the stress and risk intensifying the habit. The less fuss there is, the more likely it is for them to drop the habit.