Help your child stop biting her fingernails

Aug 19, 2009 at 12:53 a.m. ET

How can you help your child stop biting her fingernails? As with adults, children engage in repetive behaviors for a variety of reasons. For more than a few kids, the habit in question is biting fingernails. Whether it's just a little cuticle chewing, chopping down to the quick, it's unsightly and a bit unsanitary (dirty hands in the mouth, opening a path for germs if blood is drawn). Helping your child stop chewing fingernails may be a long process, but likely will be worth it for all of you.

Like an adult breaking habits, helping your child break the habit of biting fingernails is a process. It takes time, patience and understanding.

Work with your child

Since it's your child's behavior that needs so adjustment, not yours, you have to get buy in from your child. Talk with your child about your concerns for the behavior and that you'd like to work with him or her to solve it.

Identify some underlying issues

While using one of those brush on fingernail biting deterrents (because it tastes so bad) might work for some children, it won't work for others. A habit like biting fingernails may have an underlying issue associated with it. If your child is feeling particularly stressed about a situation, fingernail chewing may increase. If you can identify the stressful situation - and help address - you may go a fair way to dealing with the problem.

My child's nail biting increases in the weeks before school starts and around intense academic times. Reassurance of the situation and that we as parents will be there to help doesn't eliminate the nail biting, but it does seem to mitigate it some.

Offer rewards

As you work with your child to encourage the change in behavior, offer some reward - and if it has something to do with the hands, all the better. For girls, definitely, the offer of a nice manicure can be a great goal. For boys - well - maybe those baseball gloves he so wants?

There will be setbacks

There certainly will be setbacks as your child works to stop biting his or her nails. Getting angry won't help in these situations. Better to encourage the progress that has been made and offer sympathy and reassurance that you'll help your child get back on track.

Even with success in the process, the habit may come back months or years later. You may need to repeat this process a couple or more times. Eventually, though, you will all have achieved success: your child with breaking a bad habit and you will demonstrating teamwork and support for your child in that effort.

Tell us: Share your tips for helping your child stop biting their fingernails. Comment below!

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