When I was a kid I bit my nails. Well into highschool, and maybe even sometimes in university I was a nail biter. I have caught myself doing it even now, although very infrequently (thank goodness!) It is a rough habit to break.
When I noticed my little Rosie biting her nails I decided to let it be because I thought she might be transitioning away from thumb sucking. Turns out I was wrong.
Rose has sucked her thumb ever since she knew how to get it into her mouth. It’s a great self-soothing tool for a very small person. Emma didn’t learn to self soothe until she was 3. That’s a story for another post…
So now Rose is almost 5 and she has horrible hands because she chews on them like crazy. I spent some time searching the web for suggestions of ways to help her. Nothing jumped out as particularly helpful. Just positive reinforcement when she doesn’t do it for a day, or a week, or whatever. That doesn’t help when she cant go 2 minutes without her hands in her mouth!
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I remembered this awful tasting stuff that both my sister (she was a thumb sucker) and I got to taste in our younger years. I really didn’t want to go there with Rose because she can throw a hissy fit of epic proportions when she really wants to. Once we painted her fingernails (with nailpolish) and 2 hours later, at bedtime, she had a fit because she wanted to suck her thumb but there was colour on it. Fine. We took the colour off. Then her fingers tasted like nail polish remover. That was a long, tedious, and upsetting bedtime – for both of us! And did you know no matter how much you wash after putting nail polish remover on your hands, you can (apparently) still taste it?
Patrick suggested using lemon juice or hot sauce. Both potentially valid, but I would never put hot sauce on my child’s fingers. That stuff can burn, and for a LONG time. And the lemon juice she might actually like. She’s weird like that.
We (okay, I) sat her down and talked to her about her nails and how she’s damaging them by biting them so much. My nail beds are in bad shape still, and I “quit” biting my nails definitely after I had kids (7 years ago), and I think had pretty much stopped before that. My nails grow weird and I can’t have them long because they look awful.
Rose seemed to understand. I would even say she seemed ready to try to stop. But without some sort of intervention she couldn’t do it. Can’t say I blame her, she’s 4 and she does it during times she used to suck her thumb. She still does that too, but mainly only at bedtime.
So I went out and bought the icky tasting stuff. We compromised that we would do her 9 digits but leave her thumb that she sucks uncoated for now. Rose has not once complained about sticking her yucky tasting fingers in her mouth. I’ve seen her do it, and she barely grimaces, just removes the offending finger and that’s it. No tears, no yelling, nothing like I had suspected would happen. My baby girl is finally understanding cause and effect perhaps…
I’ll try to remember to post a follow up on this, in case anyone wonders how it’s going. Once I see she can go a day without biting I may also start the positive reinforcements with stickers or something, but right now we’re going hour to hour. I can already see a little improvement, but her nails are in such terrible shape I’m worried for her future hands.
Do you have any tips for Rose and I? I’m willing to try anything (well, almost anything) to help her out. If your kids did (or do) bite their nails, how do you deal with it? Please share with me in the comments!
Update: It’s now Sept 2017 and we have managed to get Rose to stop sucking her thumb. (I thought that would never happen!) We showed her images of the mouths of thumbsuckers and that was pretty much enough for her. But, she’s 6 now so she understands that that will happen to her if she doesn’t stop. The nailbiting is still going on – gentle reminders work in the moment, but we’ve fallen out of using the icky tasting stuff. Maybe it’s time to start again…