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Addressing Nail Biting and other Common Childhood Habits

Recently, we have had parents ask about how to help address common childhood habits such as nail biting, skin picking, and thumb sucking, among others. For simplicity, this blog post will focus on nail biting, but a lot of these techniques can be applied to other habits too.

Some key strategies to prevent nail biting:

- Positive Reinforcement: Parents should try to acknowledge and possibly reward children for not biting their nails. This can include star/sticker charts or other small daily rewards.

- Try to avoid bringing attention to the nail biting, as it may actually increase stress around the behavior, inducing the activity.

- Keep your child’s nails well-trimmed.

- Make sure that other individuals in the home, including parents, are not biting or picking their own nails, as this may reaffirm the behavior.

- If you believe that nail biting may be a way of your child of coping with stress, then teach and encourage your child other ways to manage their stress. These techniques may include breathing exercises and mindfulness activities.

- Keep your child’s hands busy. Some children benefit from a fidget-style tool or object.

- Create a barrier over the nail. This can include bandages or a topical substance. Over the counter agents can be applied to fingers as a deterrent. You can ask your pharmacist if you have questions about safe compounds to try. Some families may even decorate nails to prevent direct access to nails.

Habit Reversal Training (HRT) is an approach to address all kinds of habits, including nail biting. A great explanation of Habit Reversal Training can be found through this link:

Here is another useful resource

regarding Common Childhood Habits like nail biting:

As always, if you have questions, please ask your doctor at your next wellness or sick visit!

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