Nail Biting - How To Bite The Habit!

Ideas, tips, and suggestion to get YOU or YOUR KID from biting nails…

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 In this article:

Tips for Kids to stop nail biting

and Ideas for Adults to bite the habit




Redirect to tactical activities like Coloring & Play-Doh:

“My daughter went through a nail biting phase and, when we went in for her three year check up, I asked our pediatrician about it. He reassured me that nail biting at this age is not from stress, as it is for adults, but more for self-soothing, like thumb sucking. He suggested I ignore it. He really felt that it was better to redirect her than draw attention to it in any way. So I started offering to color or play play-doh or even just show her something that required her using her hands when I saw her fingers go into her mouth. He said usually he sees it stop on its own and in the last three months (she is almost four) I have noticed my daughter doing it less and less. I was worried in the beginning because I am a life-long nail
biter myself and it is a habit I hate. Not wanting her to emulate me has been great incentive to quit myself! Now she is into painting her nails. Good luck.”


Ignore, it’s just a phase!

:My son went thru a phase that went from nail biting to picking his cuticles. At his 3 yr check up we were told to ignore it and as hard as it was we did. It has been 3 months now and he rarely does it now. I do admit that sometimes I could not ignore it and would suggest he do something.”


Wait until your Kid in motivated to make a change:

“I bit my nails ‘til I was 21. We tried everything when I was little to stop but it didn't work-- I suppose it was my way of coping with stress and became a habit. When I was 21 someone with long nails taught me to put on nail polish and pay attention to my nails on a daily basis which eventually allowed me to break the cycle. 

One of my daughters bites her nails, the other doesn't. I tried the yucky stuff to stop her biting when she was younger but it didn't work. At this point (she's 9) I don't want her to focus on her nails so much that it distracts her. I just asked her if she wants to stop and she said "I don't really care if I bite them."

I suppose it's unhygienic and spreads disease (??) so I should be more worried about it but after a bit of unsuccessful trying with my daughter I figured we'd deal with it when she's more motivated to make a change.”


Go for manicures together – and have bonding time out of it!

"I've been a "recovering" nail biter all my life. Since I was about age 10, I only do it when no one is around (like when I'm reading) as actually find it really unflattering, unsanitary, and shows anxiety/insecurity when I see other people doing it (I know, total double standard!). At that age my parents told me to look at other people doing it and decide whether I wanted to look like that -- seemed to stick with me, though didn't make me kick the habit. But at least I didn't do it in public.

One idea (beyond the bad-tasting polish, which, by the way is so annoying anytime you want to eat anything with your hands) for the 9 year old (not sure about 3 years old, that's tough one) would be to take her to have her nails manicured with polish once a week. Set up a regular appointment for the same time each week. It's an expense, but was the one thing that "cured" me about 4 years ago. I had to do it for about 4 months before I didn't need to go each week, and probably about 7 months before I didn't need to go at all.

Once you are a nail biter, your nails (and often your cuticles too) are pretty beat up, weak & thin, therefore easy to bite/tear, making them ever more tempting. The polish makes them literally harder to bite through. And if the nails are really low, it's painful when the manicurist files them, which helps as a deterrent too. Be sure to ask the manicurist to focus on cuticles/hangnails as well.

It's not as satisfying to bite through many layers of polish - it's the "snap" that's satisfying, not a bunch of goo in your mouth. But then, of course, you run the risk of her developing into a "polish picker". But if it's once a week, it's harder to pick at fresh polish than old, flaky polish...

And if you get one at the same time too, I can imagine it's a pretty nice way to spend a half hour with your daughter each week...

I personally think you have to make it become a vanity concern. If she doesn't care, she is just going to keep doing it. It's pretty soothing. Sometimes I still look down and wish I could bite them... I think I'll go get a manicure tomorrow!”


Don't worry, it gradually gets better:

"My son, now 5, started biting his nails around 3 years old when he entered preschool. After trying a couple of things - including putting on the gross tasting chemical stuff you buy at the drugstore ,because he asked me to - I just let it go and now, 1 year into grade school he still bites his nails to keep them short, but nothing compared to the shredding in the beginning that was so upsetting for me to see. It's amazing how connected to biting is to situations in which the little ones are nervous, I would never see him biting at home, but school or any situations with other kids set it off.  Apart from trying to make sure he gets to blow off steam with crazy play and trying to have an open ear all the time I didn't do much and it gradually got better over the last couple of years."


Don't draw attention to it:

"I think your best bet is to not draw a great deal of attention to it. My daughter has a similar habit -- sucking on her hair -- and it drives me nuts, but I don't think I can force her to stop. The more I draw attention to it, the more she seems to do it."


Reward for not biting nails:

"My son went through something similar from 4-5, and it did sort of fade on its own, with some help from me. :) I didn't want to use any of the chemical products, but I gently reminded him to stop whenever I saw him doing it (usually just by moving his hand).

We ended up reading a Berenstain Bears book (BBs and the Bad Habit), of all things, that helped him a lot. In the book, they give the cubs 10 dimes to keep in their pocket, and at the end of day if they haven't bitten any of the nails, they get to keep the $. My son is into change, so this resonated with him. And it helped him to get to jingle the coins as a reminder/substitute habit. It only took a week or so, plus a lot of over-the-top praise from me whenever he didn't bite them, for him to stop.

You mentioned alternative self-soothing tactics, and he definitely substituted twirling his hair more frequently - but I was ok with that, since it's less germy and all around easier for me to deal with."




Get manicures!

“I’m 55 years old and bit my fingernails and cuticles all my life untiltwo years ago. What worked for me is getting regular manicures. I didn't grow my nails - I keep them short but neatly filed and with polish. Looking at my pretty nails reminds me not to bite.Worked for me."


“I also bite my nails, which is really a disgusting habit. For the last year I got a manicure once a week and that would prevent me from biting. Unfortunately, I haven't been in a few weeks and the biting is back! Wish I had a better solution to offer...I do sympathize though!!”


Keep your hands or mouth engaged:

“Find something else for your hands and/or mouth to keep them busy: a combo of gum chewing and knitting, maybe. I have a friend who quit smoking by taking up a yo-yo. And get a manicure!! Keep a water or seltzer bottle nearby that you keep having to unscrew and screw the top onanything with few or no consequences that can keep your fingers and mouth engaged. After a while, if you really want to stop biting, the automatic urge will lessen and you can stop spending so much energy redirecting that misplaced nail-biting energy.”


Clip and Quit:

“I used to bite my fingernails as a kid and early teen but then stopped on my own when I was about 14. The way I did it was that I *simply* decided that I wasn't going to bite my fingernails anymore.Whenever I caught myself. I would stop. I always had a nail clipper in my pocket. If there was a rough bit that provided too much temptation, I would neatly clip it. (It's hard to clip a nail bitten to the cuticle but I was able to even them out a bit.) And when I caught myself doing it again, I would stop, clip it if necessary, and carry on.

You can't stop tomorrow, or after you buy X book, or Y potion to put on your nails. You just have to decide now that you are no longer a nail biter. You will probably fail at times. So what. Stop in that moment and continue being a non-nail biter.


Fine yourself:

“A great additional technique you could use is to give yourself a consequence for biting your nails. If you do it, you have to send $5 to me. (I can give you my address off line.) I'll even sign a legal contract with you if necessary. After about $50 you'll probably stop. I'll even give you an out clause in the contract for $5,000 in case you decide to give up.

Other (cheaper) consequences could be taking over a chore from your spouse for the day. Or taking you kids out for ice cream in the evening. Yes, every evening if you violate your commitment. (It might be cheaper to pay me if you live close to Blue Marble as I do.)"


Just stop already! And find distractions:

"Seriously, I used/use [the above poster]'s technique (not the sending him $5 thing, though that's a good plan too, smart one) - first just deciding it was once and for all time to stop, and keeping that nail clipper with me to smooth all edges and remove temptation! I stopped the nail/cuticle assault for the second time in my adult life this winter (the first time it lasted a long time, but giving birth to my daughter and the stress of being a new mom welcomed the habit back in - I finally decided I was over it again and stopped again), and whenever the temptation reared its ugly head I'd use the nail clipper to get me definitively back in the not-biting groove. It's definitely HARD to just stop cold turkey the first few weeks though - constant redirection! Treat your fingers like a tantrumy toddler! "Hey, fingers! How about playing with THIS instead of that electric outlet?" Like someone else pointed out...figuring out something else for fingers to do. Ripping paper, playing with putty, squeezing a stress doll, braiding lanyard, whatever. Sometimes just rubbing the pads of your thumb and other fingers together is a perfect redirect when there's no physical object to play with.

What has helped me the most, both times I stopped, is that once a few weeks have passed, my fingers start to look normal/the skin on my fingertips starts to feel like actual human skin instead of elephant hide (my college roommate used to call the skin on my thumbs 'thumb hide' - I mean, YUCK) - that's an outstanding impetus for me to stop. I guess it's in keeping with all the manicure advice (which wouldn't work for me, I'm just absolutely not a nail polish person) – but having your fingers look nice is a good reminder not to do it!

Also, my hubby is a Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner and in Jin Shin there's a huge self-help component, and the simplest form is...drumroll...holding different fingers. So he spent a long time trying to train me to just hold my fingers instead of mutilating them. Notice myself biting or picking? Just grab that finger with the other hand instead, and hold it (gently, doesn't have to be pressed hard)! (Which - I will admit - doesn't fulfill quite the same urge, but you can try squeezing it a little). I always felt pretty triumphant when I managed that - like, wow, I was about to mutilate myself and I actually helped myself instead!


Ask for help:

"What has worked best for me is to ask my spouse to notice when I do it and point it out. I also now get manicures weekly, which surprisingly, helps more than anything else I've ever done. When I feel whatever it is that makes me pay attention to my nails, I instead refocus to do something else with my hands. That's the hard part - figuring out what can substitute, and do it. Writing (typing on a keyboard) or embroidery work fine for me, but everyone's mileage will vary...”


Stay Relaxed:

“I find when I am in a more relaxed state I don't bite my nails (and when that's not possible I apply lotion frequently, keep a small file in my bag). to get to the more relaxed state I take anti-anxiety medication, do yoga, do a lot of walking, work in my garden, cook, knit, travel . . .”


Spend time being mindful about your nails:

“I found that what helped me was to paint my nails once a day and soak them and push the cuticles back.  Basically, spend as much time being mindful about them as I was mindlessly biting them.  So it wasn't as though I decided cold turkey NOT to bit my nails-- I just decided to spend time taking care of them instead of biting them.”


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