Nail biting habit in children

Contributed by : Palak Vyas, Dr Aliraza Khunt, Nikita Thacker   
Nail biting habit in children

Nail biting is common not only in children but also in adults. It is important to understand the underlying reasons behind this habit.

About 30-60% of elementary school students bite their nails at some point. Although it is an annoying habit, nail-biting in kids doesn’t mean any serious health issue.

  • Kids bite their nails due to various reasons such as curiosity, to pass the time, to relieve stress and anxiety, habit or imitation.
  • The most common reason for child biting nails is to relieve anxiety and stress. They may also shake legs or even rub ears to relieve from anxiety and stress. All children get anxious which triggers this habit. Joining a new school, pressure to perform well in class or feeling shy at a social function are common triggers. In such cases, there’s nothing to worry about. You just need to find a good time and discuss the things (s)he may be tensed about.
  • In rare cases, severe nail-biting can be a sign of excessive anxiety. Consult your child's health professional if nail-biting is severe, long term, surfaced suddenly and co-occurs with other worrisome behaviours like picking at his/her skin, pulling his hair or if (s)he's not sleeping well.
  • Sometimes when the child is pampered a lot at home and if that child has to go out to some friends’ or relatives’ or anywhere alone or when they don't find their parents around, they start biting nails to distract self.

Ways to combat child's nail biting habit:

  • Cut your child's nails regularly.
  • If your child is old enough, give them finger foods.
  • Engage them in an activity or give them a toy which will keep their fingers busy and hence distract your child from biting the nails.
  • Develop a code word or a subtle sign between you and your child. Whenever you notice your child nibbling on his/her nails, you can say the code-word or gesture your sign without letting anyone else know about it. This will keep your child alert to not bite the nails.
  • You can try applying bite averting nail paints on your child's nails. But keep in mind, that sometimes such nail paints can be irritating for your child so consult your child's doctor before using such a chemical.
  • Explain the health consequences of biting nails to your child. Unhealthy nails can lead to upset stomach as well.
  • As a parent, you can build your child’s confidence. The child can be gradually taught to be self confident and they should be allowed to go and meet new friends, family members on whom the child has trust. This will boost the child's self confidence and if the situation is due to this nature of the child, the habit can be get ridden off.

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