Bad habits are often hard to break. And nail biting, arguably one of the most common childhood habits that often spills over into adulthood if not addressed, is no exception.
In fact, experts assert that an estimated 50 percent of all children bite their fingernails.
The reasons children bite their nails is as varied as the children themselves. One child may deal with a stressful situation by biting her nails. Another child may start biting his nails because he notices his friends biting their nails. Still another child might bite her nails because she’s angry, frustrated, or bored. Some children also start biting their nails because they’ve stopped sucking their thumbs.
Unfortunately, while nail biting is common, it isn’t as harmless as it may seem. In fact, nail biting over a prolonged period can cause a child’s teeth to become weaker and the bleeding and bruising that result from extreme nail biting can result in infections. Children who bite their nails are also more susceptible to getting colds and infections from constantly putting their fingers into their mouths.
Like any other habit, nail biting isn’t easy to break. If you work with your child, you can help him or her overcome it. Just as biting one’s nails is a learned behavior, stopping biting one’s nails is a learned behavior.
Stop it before it gets worse
It’s easier to kick a new habit than it is to stop doing something you’ve been doing for a long time. Address the nail biting the first time you notice your child biting her fingernails. Be gentle and firm in telling her to stop biting her nails and explain the reasons behind your request, if necessary.
Identify the cause of the nail biting
If you really want to help your child stop biting her nails, you first have to find the underlying cause of the problem. Why does your child bite her nails? If your child is stressed, why is she stressed? Identify the cause of the stress. Talk to your child about it and eliminate that stress.
Sometimes the problem is as simple as the length of your child’s fingernails is annoying. In that case, trim your child’s nails frequently.
Use nail biting deterrent
One effective means of helping your child kick the nail biting habit is to use a deterrent that you can put on your child’s fingers. These deterrents are designed to taste bad which should discourage your child from biting her nails. However, for a deterrent to be successful, you must apply it often. Sometimes determined kids will still keep biting despite the taste.
Offer plenty of encouragement and support
Breaking a habit used to be tough, especially for kids. Be your child’s cheerleader. Come up with ways to reward him for not biting his nails. For example, maybe you create a calendar and place stickers on it for every day that he goes without biting his nails. After so many days of success, he receives a reward, such as getting a new toy or going someplace fun that he enjoys.
Just as important as the words of encouragement are the words of support when your child slips and has a bad day. Remind your child that everyone makes mistakes and slips, especially when trying to break a habit.
Show your child you understand
Sometimes it can be really lonely when trying to break a habit. Let your child know you understand by sharing an experience with her about a time when you tried to break a habit. Share the positives as well as the negatives of your experience.
If you want to really show empathy and share your child’s experience with her, consider breaking a habit of your own while she works on her nail biting habit. Maybe you’ve been meaning to give up caffeine. Now just might be the perfect time to be a role model for your child when it comes to habit breaking.
Think about your habits. Maybe you twirl your hair when you’re stressed or suck on the cap of your pen when you are deep in thought. Do you really notice what you’re doing or has it become such a part of your life that you just do it without thinking? Help your child become aware of what he’s doing. You might remind him when he starts to bite or you may both need to come up with a creative way to help make him aware of when he starts biting his nails.
The Rotten Fish, a story in the collection of Meta4Kids stories was designed to help your child overcome nail biting by becoming more aware of her unconscious actions and by teaching her to stop instinctively putting her fingers to her mouth when she needs comfort or security.
And for your security and sanity… check out all the stories and packs available in the Meta4Kids collection.