Nail biting is part of the so-called “nervous habits” which also include hair twisting, nose picking, teeth grinding and thumb-sucking.
When we think about nail biters we mostly think about older kids and adults. But toddlers can have this habit too.
So what should you do if your toddler bites his nails and why is he doing it in the first place?
In my opinion, you should not do much to begin with. Just like when he try to eat dirt, let him know that we don’t do that. Keep an eye on him and if the nail-biting reached an excessively level, then take action – see “When should you worry”. But most probably he will stop on his own before that happens.
Why do toddlers bite their nails?
Of all the nervous habits, nail biting is the most common one. Many kids do it at some point and while some will continue into adulthood, most will stop this habit on their own.
If your toddler bites his nails it can be for various reasons.
Toddlers learn a lot about their world by touching, chewing and putting things in their mouth. So when your little one is biting his nails it might simply be out of curiosity.
He found out that on top of every finger, there is something called a nail and it´s fun to bite!
Kids learn and imitate from each other and from us (the adults).
If any other family member bites their nails, this can be reason enough for your little one picking up this habit.
Or does his best friend from kinder garden bite his nails?
Other reasons for nail biting
Other reasons that can cause toddlers to bite their nails could be:
- New routines
To find out why your toddler bites his nails, it is good to know when it started and when he does it (what I call a trigger list).
- Did it start when you got a new pet?
- Or maybe a new sibling?
- It is when you drive the car?
- Is it when you play too loud music at home?
- Has he started in a new daycare?
Observe your toddler and write down what he is doing when you see him bite his nails. Also, write down where it happened and time of day. Many times you will easily and quickly see a pattern.
And remember, toddlers may not yet be able to express what they feel in certain situations and environments. Nail biting can be a way for them to cope with a specific stressor.
How do you make him stop?
For many toddlers nail biting is just a phase and most likely they will stop on their own. So don´t panic if you suddenly see your child biting nails. As said earlier, it is more normal than you think.
There is no single solution to make your toddler stop biting his nails. All toddlers are not the same and what might work on one gives absolutely no result on another.
Many parents first reaction, when they see their toddler biting nails, is shouting something like “No – don’t do that!” or “Stop biting your nails – it is disgusting!” But that approach won’t work. Don’t panic. It is almost certain that your child does not even know he is biting his nails.
“Don´t punish or embarrass your child for biting nails. He did not start this habit to make you angry or get back at you for something you have or have not done”
If you have your trigger list, you might already know in what situations he bites his nails. Now it is a lot easier to find something that can replace or distract him from his bad habit.
Try some of these simple advices:
What would you do if you see your toddler eating dirt or chewing on a stone?
I would just tell him that we don’t do that and gently remove his fingers from his mouth. Now clean his hands from dirt and see if he does it again. If he does – same procedure. In the end, he will get the point. Try the same if he bites his nails.
Keep your toddler’s nails tidy and short. Often a nail with rough edges will get the toddlers attention and they start to bite.
Give your toddler something that can keep his hands occupied while he watches a movie, read a book or sit in the car. It could be a softball or the teddy bear he loves so much.
Give him his pacifier.
Don’t use anti-nail biting polish for your toddler
I have heard many parents ask what kind of anti-nail biting polish they can use for their small ones and I still see it on the Internet as well.
The answer is: You should not use anti-nail biting polish or any other kind of bad tasting remedies for toddlers.
First of all, toddlers will not understand the connection between the bad taste experience and the nail-biting. Instead, they might end up putting their fingers in the mouth while eating and suddenly that normally great tasting banana will be a nightmare. And you will not get him to eat it again for a long time.
Secondly, no matter how good your intentions are, your toddler might feel this as a punishment. And chances are he doesn’t even know why he is being punished!
If your child still bites his nails when he gets older, then the anti-nail biting polish may be a good and helpful solution.
And remember to be patient. Keep on observing your child and change tactic if one thing is not working.
When should you worry?
In some cases, the nail-biting might become so severe that you as parents need to act.
If your toddler is biting so much, that his fingers bleed, that could turn into a serious infection. Or maybe he bites his nails so excessively that there is hardly anything left of them.
In these situations pay attention to other behaviors like if he is scratching his skin or pulling out hair. These could be signs of a more serious anxiety issue and you should seek help from your child’s doctor.
Let’s just remember that we are talking about toddlers here. They are 12-36 months old and will chew on basically anything they can get their hands on.
So I don’t find it a surprise that some will try nail-biting when they get teeth.
Clearly, you should not just sit back and wait for him to stop on his own. As parents, we need to teach our kids what is right and wrong. And nail biting is wrong!
But take an easy approach and just tell him nice and easy that we don’t bite our nails – just like we don’t eat dirt or chew on our shoes.