Read on to learn more about nail biting in children, why it occurs, and how to stop it.
Research shows that up to 50 percent of children will bite their nails at some point. There are many reasons that can lead babies and children to bite their nails. But the most common reason is also the simplest: boredom.
If your baby is bored and doesn't have any colorful, interesting toys on hand, they could resort to biting their nails for fun. In many cases, babies will indulge in nail biting because their nails are there and easily accessible to them.
Fingernail biting can also be a form of self-soothing. This habit can be similar to sucking their thumb or a pacifier. In these cases, you'll probably notice that your baby is biting their nails during specific situations; for example, when they're exposed to loud noises.
If your baby is teething, they could chew on their hands or bite their nails to relieve their sore gums. Teething can cause itchy gums as teeth erupt, so it's normal for babies to look for something to bite on during this stage.
Babies love putting everything in their mouths. This includes their fingers. It's easy to worry if this habit is hygienic and wonder whether your baby can catch any diseases from it.
If your baby is still a newborn or toddler, it's impossible to explain to them that their hands can get dirty. When your child is very young, try your best to keep their hands clean.
If your child is still a baby, it can be very difficult to make them stop biting their nails. And in most cases, this habit will go away with time, so there's nothing to worry about. If your baby only bites their nails occasionally, there's probably no harm. And if they're very young, it's also unlikely that you can stop it.
But that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do! These techniques might help prevent your child from biting their nails:
- Provide a replacement. If you've noticed that your child only indulges in nail biting during specific moments (like when watching television), give them a toy to distract them.
- Soothe their anxieties. If your child has recently experienced an event that could cause anxiety or stress, it could lead to nail biting. For babies, anxiety could be caused by being in a crowded, loud room. Older children could become anxious for many reasons, from a visit to the doctor to moving to a new house. In these cases, try to address the cause of their anxiety, and they'll probably stop biting their nails soon enough.
- If your baby's nail biting habit could be related to teething, try to relieve their symptoms. After consulting with a doctor, try applying some soothing balm or give them a teething toy. Teething can cause soreness, and your baby's nail-biting habit will probably stop once their teeth have erupted.
- Reward them. If your child is older, create a reward system to encourage them to stop biting their nails. Motivate them to go for longer periods of time without biting their fingernails. For example, start by asking them to keep from biting their nails from the moment they wake up until breakfast. Then, increase this period until lunch. Once your child reaches a certain amount of time without biting their nails, reward them. Their reward could be anything from an ice cream to a playdate at the park.
- Make them aware of their habit. If your child is a bit older, you'll have an easier time explaining to them why they should try to stop biting their nails. Once they understand, they'll probably want to stop this habit themselves. Agree on a code — a light nudge or a certain word will do — to alert them whenever you catch them biting their nails. This can be a gentle reminder to stop nail biting without embarrassing them in front of other people.
- Go for a manicure. If your child is interested in having their nails done, and you're okay with it, take them for a manicure. Having their nails done and seeing them painted nicely could motivate them to stop biting their nails.
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In very rare cases, nail biting can be caused by onychophagia. Onychophagia is habitual nail biting, and it can be a symptom of underlying stress and/or psychiatric disorders such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. The average age of onset of pediatric onychophagia is usually around 5 years old.
If your child bites their nails frequently, has bitten the skin around their nails to the point that it is raw or bleeding, is exhibiting other symptoms of anxiety, or tries to hide their nail biting from you, it could be time to address these concerns with their pediatrician.
Nail biting is a very common behavior, both in children and adults. Fortunately, it usually doesn't signal a deeper problem and goes away with time. If you're still concerned about your child's nail biting, your pediatrician will be able to give you advice.