My Little Nail Biter – We Need Help!

Anxiety

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!

My Little Nailbiter - We Need Help!*This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through my link I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you.*

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!

~Jess

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…

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10 Comments

  1. I know this sounds crazy but I am a 40 year old reformed nail biter and for some reason I don’t do it when I wear gel polish. I think it is because when I feel a rough spot or they are uneven I keep biting them in an attempt to even them until nothing is left. With the polish on, I don’t break or snag them so it stops me. I guess gel polish might not be the best idea for a 4 year old but I thought I would mention it.

    1. No suggestion is too wild at this point! Although she has no nails to paint right now. I will try that as a reward in the future perhaps. She’s so young I find it’s hard to help her understand just how she’s harming her little fingers.
      Though roughness is exactly why I used to bite my nails as well. It drove me crazy. Thanks for reading and commenting!
      ~Jess

  2. Appreciating the time and energy you put into your forum and in depth information you provide. It’s good to come across a forum every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed information. Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account. Salman

  3. I have tried vinegar dip for my 5 year old step daughter. She comes to our house every other week with her poor nails swolled and red from her biting her nails to the point where they bleed and really hurt. It does not help that her mom excessively bites her nails the same way ( only about 1/4 of her nails are left) i tried using the no bite nail polish…does not work for her, you have to reapply after every hand washing..so i have tried diping her fingers in vinegar, drying em off…its seems to help the past few weeks, but its like starting all over every week.
    Good luck!

    1. I am going to try this! Thank you so much for the tip. I know she doesn’t like vinegar so this may just do the trick. I really appreciate your comment. Thanks again!
      ~Jess

  4. Bribery! Start small and build to greater rewards. If there are siblings, they get rewards too. (e.g. If she can go 20 min without biting she gets a sticker or chocolate chip, after an hour she gets 2 stickers, extra TV after 4 hours, etc.) Let her define the rewards whenever possible. Make sure the rewards are sustainable, because my guess is that it will take a year or more for her to really overcome the urge. Every time she bites, you need to reset the clock. The key is frequent positive reinforcement and celebration. (I’m not a professional, just an old mom, so adjust as needed 🙂

    1. Thanks Kathy! I like these tips. It’s hard when she’s not home with my for most of her life – I mean she’s at school and then after school care until 5 or 5:30. We can make this work on the weekends, but that’s not great for continuity. She is slowing making progress – and the thumb sucking is stopped now – so that’s a bonus!
      ~Jess

  5. One more idea. I read this somewhere and it worked to get my daughter to stop sucking her thumb. On her 5th birthday the phone rang and I took the call in the other room, but made sure my daughter could hear my end of the call which was totally made up. (I’d made the phone ring. There was no one on the other end of the line.) I returned to the kitchen table and announced that the doctor had called to remind us that Andrea must stop sucking her thumb since she was now 5 years old. Amazingly it worked.

    My fear is that if your daughter has a super strong urge to bite her nails you might add unnecessary guilt if you try this with her, but you might try some modified version of it (e.g. the doctor says you need to try to stop).

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