Toddler nail biting is more common than you’d think- between 1/3rd to ½ of all children have issues with nail biting at some point or other. It seems to come naturally, without being taught, and it is a very hard habit to break. Since toddlers bite their nails more when they’re anxious or stress, scolding and nagging—an almost automatic mother-response— makes the problem only worse.
There are any number of reasons why your toddler may be chewing her nails. She may:
• Need an outlet for anxiety or stress
• Find nail biting comforting; an extension of the baby pacifier or thumb sucking
• Have learned the habit from friends or family members, and now have it firmly engrained
Chewing nails is not a major health problem, but germs or insect eggs can hide under dirty fingernails, so it’s not a very sanitary habit either. It leaves your child’s nails ragged-looking , and fingers bitten to the quick—or with torn hangnails—can easily get infected.
You know what you shouldn’t do—nag and scold—but what can you do to help your little one stop biting? Talk to her about it, and explain it’s not a good idea; that you want her nails to grow and be healthy and pretty or, for a little boy, handsome. There are nasty-tasting, non-toxic substances you can coat your child’s nails with; they work for some children, others will still bite.
If your child is constantly chewing her nails while doing one particular activity—watching cartoons, for instance—you may want to buy special gloves for her to wear during that time; and make it a rule that they don’t come off. Don’t make it a punishment though, and make them cool gloves or mittens that your child can be proud of wearing.
Incentives work to encourage some older toddlers to stop nail biting; especially if it is an incentive that is nail-related. If your three your old daughter loves brightly colored nail polish, you can promise to buy her some if she doesn’t bite her nails—but she has to have a week without biting to get it, and can only keep it as long as she doesn’t bite.
When you see your toddler bite his nails try giving a distraction rather than address he biting directly. Ask him to draw you a beautiful picture and get out the paper and crayons, or find the ball and suggest a ball game on the floor. Nail biting is the way some little people deal with boredom, and if that is the case for your child, you can deal with it by offering him lots of fun, healthy, low-stress activities.
If nothing works, don’t stress and start biting your own nails in a fruitless search for a cure. Some children outgrow nail biting as they grow, in their own time, so you may need to play a waiting game. And there are many well-adjusted, successful adults who bite their nails on occasion in the privacy of their own houses, so even the most tenacious toddler nail biting isn’t a death-blow to whatever ambitions you have for your child.