Breaking the devil that is nail chewing
November 17, 2017 5:32 PM   Subscribe

2 year old edition. Recently started chewing fingers and while no blood has been drawn, he is getting close. I know there is something we can paint on his nails, any brand recommendations or other tips and strategies we could try to get ahead of this before it becomes a lasting habit?
posted by MandaSayGrr to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My daughter chews on her clothes (3). Our dr suggested diversion (we reintroduced rusks), no criticism (I had been telling her off) and to try to address the cause of any anxiety (new baby in our case- we introduced some one on one parent time. These things have helped.
posted by man down under at 6:12 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh and we bought a chewable necklace. She really likes it.
posted by man down under at 6:12 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know there is something we can paint on his nails, any brand recommendations or other tips and strategies we could try to get ahead of this before it becomes a lasting habit?

I started biting my nails as a very young child, and it's not a habit, really. When my nails get long enough, it actually hurts my fingers because of the way the skin around the nails is formed. Nobody ever believed me as a child, but of the stories I could make up, why that ?

Anyway, I was a vigorous nailbiter through school and even marine basic training despite sometimes very severe repercussions. Now, I keep clippers handy at all times to deal with them because its cleaner, and if those aren't around, I'll gnaw the hell out of them. Because, they hurt otherwise.

You should know that my parents made a *huge* deal out of it when I was a kid. They tried everything. The bitter polish and other coatings never lasted very long, and anyway kind of taste good after a while. Yelling and grounding and corners and all that didn't work either, and frankly made me do it more. And it then became a thing because it was a thing and it was a constant source of self loathing and doubt for me as a child that took me a long time to get over as an adult.

The problem isn't the nailbiting. It's not the most hygienic, but kids are filthy anyway and despite the doom and gloom from my parents and teachers, I managed to have a career and a wife and a child and all of the trappings of a successful adulthood.

My advice - trim the nails too short to chew and don't make a big deal out of the nailbiting. Casually and calmly redirect to something else and don't make a big deal out of it. It's almost certainly a symptom of either irritation at the nails or a reaction to some anxiety of one sort or another. Point is, address those sources and you'll have more success.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:28 PM on November 17, 2017 [22 favorites]

Maybe giving him a fun portable toy to play with, as redirection? Or a chewable necklace as suggested. They come in cool designs and he can pick one he likes.
posted by starlybri at 8:06 PM on November 17, 2017

Echoing almost everything of what Pogo_Fuzzybutt said - in my case, nailbiting was a combo of anxiety and specifically not being able to tolerate ANY feel of any rough edges or my nails being different lengths from one another. And I wasn't really able to articulate any of this until I was an adult- I wish someone had helped me figure it sooner, rather than expecting me to ignore it and stop via willpower.

I'd suggest harm reduction (nails short enough not bite, chew necklace) and a relatively low key approach for now, and once kiddo is old enough, a curious & collaborative problem solving attitude. I bet a 5 year old can learn to use an emory board - in my case, that plus cuticle cream/lotion would have done wonders, but since we were not big into cosmetics or fussiness around appearance in my family I didn't have a chance to figure any of this out until my mid 20s.
posted by heyforfour at 6:22 AM on November 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've bitten my nails all my life and I'm old enough to be your child's great-grandmother. I don't bite down to blood. I am very uncomfortable with the feeling of extra nails on my fingertips, somewhat like heyforfour above. I carry a nail clipper in my purse and try to keep nails trimmed way short, but still bite them too. In the larger scale of things in life it's really not a big deal, so keep your child's nails trimmed short and don't focus on it too much.

My youngest sister was traumatized at around that age because our housekeeper/nanny put dijon mustard on my sister's thumbs to get her to stop sucking them.
posted by mareli at 7:28 AM on November 18, 2017

I bit my fingernails until high school, and the thing that made me quit was as simple as receiving a man manicure set that was so cool I couldn't wait to use it for real. I second the idea of making a big deal/focus time for nail trimming, and lots of positive reinforcement in that direction. The negative shit just made me want to bite them more.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:12 PM on November 18, 2017

I’ve bitten my nails since I was in the womb and drawing attention to it and shaming will never help. I love the idea of diversion.

I agree with heyforfour:

not being able to tolerate ANY feel of any rough edges or my nails being different lengths from one another.

I’m constantly running my fingers across my nails looking for rough edges - when I manage to smooth them down by rubbing them on my jeans it’s OK. I recently discovered that when I file the sides of my nails down so there aren’t as many sharp corners I’m less inclined to bite them.

Two ideas: diversion and file off any rough spots.
posted by bendy at 9:39 PM on November 18, 2017

Biter of nails since childhood here. All the bitter nail polishes and parental punishments never worked. The only things that have ever reduced my nail biting have been getting frequent professional manicures, keeping nail clippers on hand at all times to keep nails smooth, and taking some anxiety medications.

In some recent scientific studies, nail biting is gaining recognition not as a "bad habit" but as one form of compulsive self-grooming collectively called body-focused repetitive behaviors, with complex causes not yet fully understood. BFRBs are often though not always diagnosed alongside disorders like anxiety and ADHD, but it can be a chicken-and-egg situation determining cause/effect: did a person with ADD start nailbiting as a self-soothing focus treatment for the ADD? did the same genetic conditions that led to developing ADD also lend themselves to nailbiting compulsions? are the nailbiting and the ADD completely unrelated and diagnosed in the same person by coincidence?

In addition to some of the treatments suggested above, I would recommend giving your son's pediatrician a heads-up about the nailbiting, both to ask for any recommendations and to keep an eye out for the small chance of any related or worsening symptoms in the future.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:25 AM on November 19, 2017

« Older Voice Memo App for Android?   |   Eye or brain, or both or neither? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.