How do I get my 2 year old to stop chewing her nails?
October 18, 2005 4:48 AM   Subscribe

My 2 yr old daughter chews on her nails/cuticles. How can i get her to stop? she somes times chews it all the way down and complains because it hurts.

I read this but it is more for grown ups. I also know about the bitter stuff you can put on, but she would probably like it. So any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
posted by ShawnString to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
Don't be so sure about the nail coating remedy. The main product people use isn't just bitter, but completely, comprehensively vile-tasting. It stops most -- but not all -- nail-biters cold. The biggest problem people encounter when using it with very little kids (like your 2-year-old) is that their kids can't eat finger foods anymore.
posted by MattD at 6:02 AM on October 18, 2005

Anyone else in your house that bites their nails ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:06 AM on October 18, 2005

I don't have children, so forgive my naivete if this is a little ambitious for a child of 2, but you could try offering to paint her nails a pretty colour if she can manage to grow them a little? this was a fairly convincing argument when I was a young girl of about 6... (ok, ok, it would only work for a few weeks at a time... but that's better than nothing, n'est pas?), and all little girls love to feel pretty, so it's a compelling kind of reward. You can buy children's nail polish that is designed to be peeled off after a couple of days.

and for the record: the "bitter stuff" really does taste quite nasty. it's at least worth a shot if you haven't tried it already.
posted by ancamp at 6:10 AM on October 18, 2005

I had a friend in college who had no nails due to biting them for most of her life. She had a few slivers of nail-like-stuff at the very base of some of her fingers, but for the most part, her fingers were just skin. Stop it now.
posted by odinsdream at 6:20 AM on October 18, 2005

Don't pay so much attention to it. Kids want attention more than anything else... your best strategy is to 1) have all the adults around her stop biting their nails; and 2) have the adults talk to each other about how nice their nails look. Ignore the behavior. When she grows a nail out, make a big deal of it.

The more you try to actively engage her on this issue, the more attention she receives, the less incentive she has to change... bitter coatings included.
posted by ewkpates at 6:33 AM on October 18, 2005

I was a nail biter when I was younger, but I eventually stopped. My advice would be to make sure you keep her nails short, trimmed, and smooth - it's most tempting to bite when there's a jagged edge or the nails are longer. Also, look into the bitter nail polish to stop the biting. I really doubt she'll like it. It may not stop her, but if I remember right it at least slowed me down.

Oh, and winter is coming, so invest in some pretty mittens?
posted by geeky at 6:43 AM on October 18, 2005

• I still bite my nails, I'm 26.
• The bitter stuff doesn't work, but it did teach me how to clean my hands thoroughly.
• A lack of attention has absolutely nothing to do with anything - it's a habit, like scratching in the wrong places - however constant scolding builds an unhelpful well of resentment. If you can give positive attention due to lack of biting, I think you're on a winner.
• I find it's due to boredom or anxiety. If there are things to do and places to be I can go weeks unmolested. However it's also because it's easy to trim cracked/uneven/hanging nails with teeth. (ditto geeky)

Probably 2 steps, one of which chimes with ancamp
1) talk to her, explain to her, ask her, bargain with her to get her to not bite until the nails are a certain length. Reward when this definite goal is reached, and pretty-coloured nails sound absolutely perfect.
2) look after her nails with her - some small clippers (no, of course not scissors) and a sparkly emery board so that the nails don't need evening out by busy teeth. This shared and very personal time sounds rather like positive re-enforcement too.

My parents didn't really try anything further than "Stop it!", so I wish you more luck than they had.
posted by NinjaPirate at 7:00 AM on October 18, 2005

I second the suggestion to keep her nails smooth, trimmed, free of hang nails. I 'stopped' biting my nails about three years ago. but if I get a jaggedy edge I'm immediately tempted to bite it off. Three years ago that would have led down a slippery slope ending in ten gnawed digits. Now I carry an emery board in my purse.
The hard part is going to be getting her past the growing out phase, where there will be all kinds of tempting uneven bits snagging on her sweaters and such. I further second the positive reinforcement suggestion. Set a future reward, like pretty sparkly nail polish, but also make the daily inspection a pleasant experience, perhaps a gentle hand massage with pretty smelling lotion? Also, let her chose some fun stickers to mark her successful days on the calendar.
Good luck
posted by Sara Anne at 7:52 AM on October 18, 2005

She's two, so keep in mind she won't even remember anything you do for the next year.
posted by delmoi at 8:05 AM on October 18, 2005

Dip her fingers in hot sauce. Seriously.
posted by dontrockwobble at 8:18 AM on October 18, 2005

I bit my nails till they bled all of my life and finally quit in my 30s. The bitter stuff does work. The problem is finding some that won't wash off the first time your hands get wet.
posted by wsg at 8:23 AM on October 18, 2005

I had the same issue as Sara Anne -- the inability to tolerate roughness on my fingertips, whether from jagged nails or uneven cuticles -- beginning when I was about 2. I would second the suggestions to paint her nails and keep them filed, but you might also try trimming her cuticles with a cuticle trimmer. This might take an exceptionally patient toddler, but if she'll put up with it, it may be worth a shot.

I wouldn't really worry about it becoming a habit at this point, but I would be on the lookout for infection from her cuticle biting. Have her wash her hands often and watch for signs of redness or puffiness around the nailbed.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 8:45 AM on October 18, 2005

Dip the tips of her fingers in vinegar each morning.

Not only will th taste disgust her when she chews... the smell will make it even worse.

It worked for three friends of mine growing up.
posted by bamassippi at 8:45 AM on October 18, 2005

Find her a toy that keeps her hands busy...sounds like she is telling you more than her nails are jagged.

Also if she chews on her toys since you've noticed this. She maybe teething, give her a frozen hotdog.
posted by thomcatspike at 9:41 AM on October 18, 2005

Bitter nail bite lotion worked for a few I know
posted by webmeta at 10:11 AM on October 18, 2005

A coworker has had success with the pretty nail polish trick.
posted by clh at 10:34 AM on October 18, 2005

I bit my nails obsessivly as a kid and my daughter does it too. My parents tried the bitter nail polish and I just learned to suck/chew it off. Mom's 'swat the hand of the mouth' technique never worked either.

When I catch my five-year old in the act I ask her to go wash her hands first. She'll usually stop biting rather than go wash up. I'll also ask her if she'd like me to get the clippers; about half of the time she'll say yes and let me trim off whatever she's gnawing at. I also try to check her hands after each bath and clip or file any bits she may be tempted to nibble on. She won't quit until she's ready so it's not worth making a huge deal over.

Since your daughter is younger I'd suggest keeping her hands occupied. I know for me and mine the biting is usually done while bored; tv and story time is the most common trigger.
posted by Mamapotomus at 10:46 AM on October 18, 2005

Whenever I color my nails, I bite it right off. Moreso when I was younger. Painting stuff on probably won't work since she's also biting the skin around her nails, and will probably be able to learn how to just avoid the coating. I would say find out why she started and stop the cause. But that wouldn't have worked for me since when I was young I decided to see what biting my nails was like and have been committed ever since.

I agree with NinjaPirate. I massacre my nails more the more stressed I am.
I had the same issue as Sara Anne -- the inability to tolerate roughness on my fingertips, whether from jagged nails or uneven cuticles
I just use a pumice stone on my fingers now, but still bite. Stress is more likely a cause than appearance. If your mind is restless/anxious it's more likely to catch on something about your hands that it sees or call up the instinct to bite as comfort. A calm mind is more likely to not latch onto such thoughts and instincts easily.

I really think the reward and punishment tactic is the way to go with a 2 year old. Check every day or so and if you see she's been doing it, punish her, and if you see she hasn't, give her a great reward. She will also understand your disapproval which will be very convincing. Get involved so she understands that this is a bad thing. I know it may be tough to punish her, but if you really want her to stop you have to be tough on her.
posted by scazza at 1:16 PM on October 18, 2005

Rewards and punishments can be tricky with younger children because they can't always think far enough ahead to the consequences in time to modify their actions. (Hey, this applies to a lot of adults too - except for us it's often more won't than can't.) Consequences happening after time has passed will seem arbitrary - it's difficult for children of this age to make the connection between that thing they did sometime within the past day and your attitude (praise or disapproval) right now.

If you do anything in the moment - immediate consequences - try to keep it non-negative, understandable within her worldview, in the same order of magnitude as the offense, and consistent across different caregivers. This can be very hard to achieve, but it's worth trying for.

If she has a favorite adult who wears nail polish, maybe a joint nail-painting session would be a nice long-term incentive. First the beloved adult does it (with whatever input your two-year-old can contribute - maybe choice between two colors), then she gets hers done if they're long enough.

Also, please consider that this behavior may not be something that she is really capable of controlling consciously right now. Two-year-olds are not known for their impulse control.

Finally, see if there's a cause you can get to. Is she anxious? See if you can find the reason and assuage it. Fidgety? Get her something else to fidget with. Teething? Something to chew on. Sensitive to rough edges? Keep them trimmed and filed.
posted by expialidocious at 2:21 PM on October 18, 2005

Most people here are overlooking the fact that there is more to nail and cuticle biting than it just being a habit that can be stopped by punishment or negative reinforcement. There are often deeper issues involved, even for two year olds. Nail and cuticle biting are related to skin picking, and both of these are minor indications of Obsessive Compusive Disorders. Look up "skin picking" online and you'll find lots of references to nail and cuticle biting, and all of them will do a better job than I can at explain the relation to OCD's.

Smacking a kids hands out of their mouth or putting nasty tasting stuff on their fingers might help some people (I would venture to say only temporarily), but for many of us who deal with these problems, it's a neurological thing, not something punishment will ever effectively treat and not something most of us can control by willpower alone. For adults, the various tactics mentioned here and in the other thread about nail biting might help... but if you look around for professional and medical advice, one common "solution" for these problems are anti-depressants and/or anti-psychotic medication. Not that I am suggesting you put your daughter or anyone on such drugs... just trying to point out that nail biters have more going on than just a bad habit.

I've been a nail and cuticle biter all my life, and I hate it... and I've tried the bitter stuff, tried every technique ever suggested, and none have work for me. When I am more stressed out, I bite more. When I am less stressed, it's not so bad. I don't want to go on the crazy drugs as I am not in other ways depressed or psychotic, so I live with it and try to control it to the best of my ability. I understand wanting to nip this problem in the bud with the young child... at the same time I remember all the fighting and terrible times with my parents when they tried to get me to stop as a kid, and how I suffered... and how it never solved the problem... only left a bitter taste in my mouth.
posted by RoseovSharon at 2:49 PM on October 18, 2005

My 2 year old grew out of it before she turned 4. I don't think we had anything to do with it. We told her that we'd do pretty nails, but she usually forgot about it in short order. There is some small hope that she'll just grow out of it...
posted by susanbeeswax at 4:25 PM on October 18, 2005

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