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Why do kids bite their nails?

They’re lovely, they’re beautiful, they’re our little poppets. However, it’s a no-brainer that kids also have a lot of annoying and unwanted habits like the rest of us, right?

Whether it’s for comfort, out of nervousness or just because they’re that little bit hungry and fancy some nail-tasting treats, Nail biting is something that we really don’t want our kids to adopt as standard behaviour. Nor do we want them to grow up with it.

So why do our little darlings decide to absorb themselves in this nail-esk niggle that leaves us parents and carers cringing and feeling as if we’re repeating ourselves with ‘stop biting your nails?’

According to Beth Haikin, a PhD student, she feels that nail biting is down to children feeling nervous. She also states that this darned nail-biting venture: ‘tends to run in families, and is the most likely of the nervous habits to continue into adulthood.’ So, like other habits and diseases, is it actually older adults and carers that pass on these thumb-sucking or nail-biting habits to our kids?

Beth further says in her online article (at HealthDay), that …’about 30 to 60 percent of elementary school students and 20 percent of adolescents bite their nails’. (*1) Maybe this is something that we as humans do to keep ourselves calm? Maybe it’s just down to stress or being anxious. Maybe its a characteristic behaviour that people then continue to use to stem other feelings as they get older?

A lot of parents and carers worry that nail-biting can be a sign of some other psychological problem or that it will develop into something even more significant. If you feel like this, then you’re not alone! The advice first and foremost is not to worry. There are many an adult feeling just as worried as you!

Here are a few hints and tips to make you feel a little more at ease!

  1. Nail biting may just be a little, irrelevant habit that won’t stick into your kid’s older years. If your little one is merely biting their nails during TV-time or while they are waiting with you in a waiting room or at the bus stop, don’t worry! This is perfectly normal. Children have a lot to learn and growing up is a scary concept. If they need a little comfort; whether it’s a blanket or a little bit of nibbling, it’s really is nothing to stress over!
  2. If the habit continues and the nails become irritated or sore, then it’s probably time to address the issue. Maybe ask your kid what’s going on and what they feel so nervous about or maybe what scares them? Why not play a game with them and you both list down your fears and make them into stories so that you can connect on the same level. This might help your little one feel a little less wary of telling you such things.
  3. It’s incredibly important not to lecture, nag or shout at your child to make them stop biting their nails. Remember, this is a habit that they’re used to and it helps to comfort them. If you’re going to address this, then maybe use a bit of comedy within your communication. ‘Are you being a rabbit again?’ Or ‘I think that cheese is very nice for the nibbly mouse over there!’ (Directing this at the child.) A little bit of laughter will maybe make your kid feel more comfortable and able to relate on a ‘chilled out’ basis. This will hopefully lead to laughter, giggles and a healthy conversation.
  4. Distraction is key. If you notice your kid biting their nails, why not try and distract them with something. Give them an object or material to keep their hands busy. Why not give them a toy or something textured to stroke or play with. This way, their fingers won’t get sore and you won’t need to get overly emotional at what feels like a brick wall that you’re always talking to and reminding to ‘stop biting your nails.’ Also, you won’t need any of that horrible nail-painting-tasting varnish that your folks might have popped on your fingers when you were little! Blergh!
  5. Speak to other parents and carers. Maybe even your GP or your local pharmacist if you’re really concerned. People have so many personal tips and tricks. You never know who you might get talking to and what they might have found that works! Also, try looking at books and literature that is written first hand from people who have been through the same.  ‘Dawn Huebner’s What to Do When Bad Habits Take Hold: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Nail Biting and More’ is just one of the books to take a look at and available for a really reasonable price on the internet!

Aside from these top tips, there are probably a few questions that you have and feel need answering as well. One central problem is: When do we need to worry about our kids biting their nails?

Answer?

They’re all different. Your children are unique human beings. There are of course apparent signs of bleeding, peeling skin and soreness. Physicalities that may appear and that you know that they need your intervention. Alternatively, your child might start complaining of tender or wobbly teeth. If this is the case, take a visit to the dentist and get some medical advice from an appropriate professional.

Other reasons that might cause further worry to you and your kid’s horrid habit is if he or she continues, deteriorates or develops their nail-biting into other behaviours. As a general rule of thumb (no pun intended), keep an eye on your little one and if you’re concerned, simply speak to the health visitor or someone you feel comfortable with. Remain calm and collected and try your hardest to address the issue the best you can.

At the end of the day, we’re all human. We all have habits and as long as we’re healthy and happy, then usually, that’s okay!

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