Ways to stop your child from biting his or her nails

Children bite their nails for many reasons such as stress, nervousness and boredom. Some biters munch when they are in a trance-like state and don’t even seem to realize they’re chewing away. The trance-biters can often be seen practicing their habit while watching television and also when they are tired or have just woken up.

Children also bite their nails if they have a family member who is a nail-biter. There is nothing pathologically wrong with a child that bites his or her nails. It’s just a habit that can be changed with gentle encouragement.

Reasons not to bite nails

Although adults may be deterred from biting when they see that mouth infections, dental problems, nail fungal infections and intestinal infections are side-effects of constant nail-biting, children, are not as impressed. They do not understand the scope of health or social problems that can occur to the nail-biter.

Substitute nail biting for a positive habit

If you offer your child a replacement habit, the child can often slide from nail-biting right into the new fascination. For example Legos, small cars or dolls, magnetic toys, blocks or puzzles are all good replacements for biting. Encourage your child to use manipulative (objects that encourage the child to use an active, hands-on approach to learning or play) and when their hands are busy, they won’t tend to put them in their mouths.

Introduce a new craft, skill or art

Beading, knitting, crocheting, weaving, leather braiding and soap carving all are ways to keep your biter’s hands busy. Manipulating clay to make small sculptures, finger painting and nautical knot tying are other fun ways to keep your child from wanting to bite.

Video games and outdoor games

Games that require the child to use both hands to play are another way to keep children mentally and physically occupied. Yo-yoing, juggling and jump roping are activities that will be fun for your child, good exercise and will break the habit of sitting and biting nails.


Making music is creative and exciting, but it is also soothing and calming. Electric pianos, harmonicas, recorders and drums are inexpensive ways to substitute the habit of nail-biting with the pleasure of making music.

Limit books and TV

For a few weeks, eliminate or limit book reading and TV viewing, two activities that lead to “zoning out” into the nail-biting “fugue” state.

Incentives and rewards

Find toys or crafts that will engage and interest your child. Keep some surprises hidden away as either incentives or rewards for going without nail-biting. Many girls can be motivated to stop biting by the promise of manicures and nail polish, find a similar incentive for boys if they are nail-biters.

Use a bandage

If your child has a favorite finger or two that receives the most nail biting, cover the finger or fingers with bandages until the habit starts to fade.

Allow one biting finger

Some parents have had luck eliminating nail-biting or almost eliminating nail-biting by allowing the child to pick a favorite finger which will be okay to bite. This way nine fingers heal, nail beds grow strong and nails start to look good. Often the child will give up biting that tenth finger when he sees how nice his hands look now.


Every so often we must reboot our computers to get them working right again. Children benefit from a “reboot” too, especially when you are hoping to change something that has become a “bad” habit. For example, change your routines, take your child for a walk and hold hands, go to the park and push the child on the swings.

For older children, play card games or dice games that take the attention away from the nails and onto the competition of the game. Try not to argue or fight over nail-biting so that it doesn’t become an issue that divides you and your child. Of course, never use any form of punishment on the nail-biter and have patience.

Statistics upside down

The flip side of the statistics stated in the beginning of this article is that 60 to 80 percent of adults don’t bite their nails. With love, patience and time, the odds are that your little nail-biter will give it up before adulthood.