Nail Biting & Chewing: Why Kids Do It and How to Stop it

Do you find yourself or your kids biting your nails or chewing on things like pencils? 

If so, do not fret, is it estimated that 50% of kids bite their nails! (Healthwise, 2021).

Fidgeting, biting, chewing, picking and the inability to sit still are common nervous habits, so lets delve into what actually causes this!

The main reasons for kids biting their nails include:

  • Insecurity 
  • Anxiety
  • Stress 
  • Boredom
  • Trying to keep themselves awake and alert.  

Try to pay close attention to their mood, energy level and what their doing that causes them to start biting and chewing.

What time of day is it? Is it a constant thing they do? Are they tired, bored or excited?

By asking these questions we can better understand what is the cause and how we can stop it.

What are some ways to discourage this behaviour?

  1. Remind them when they are doing it.

    Most of the time your child might not even be aware that they are biting their nails. It is usually a unconscious habit, so it is important to bring their attention to it.

    Approach it in a kind and gentle manner, rather than judgement, and work together towards breaking the habit.

  2. Cut their nails everyday

    By keeping their nails short you are preventing the ability to bite them, however if their nails are already short from biting them, DO NOT cut further.


  3. Create a funny code word

    By creating a funny code for when they are biting, you are able to remind them in social situations without embarrassing them or bringing unwanted attention towards them

  4. Give them something else to keep their mouth and hands busy

    Sometimes alerting them does not solve it completely, that is why it is important to give them something to substitute from biting their nails. Fidgeting with sensory toys such as stress balls, fidget toys, pop its and squishies will relieve your child from any stress, anxiety or uncomfortable feelings they have.

    However, if they are still chewing and start chewing the sensory toys. you can switch to sensory toys designed to be chewed. Chewerly was specifically designed to combat chewing, and offers kids a safe, durable and wearable alternative to chewing nails and pencils.

    5. Plenty of play and exercise time

    Children require a lot of physical activity and exercise. Playing and exercising have numerous advantages, including harmonising our sensory systems and reducing anxious habits like nail-biting.

What not to do when discouraging this habit

  • Interminable lectures
  • Creating a power struggle
  • Punishments
  • Negatively addressing your child's nail-biting
  • scream at your child

Biting and picking tendencies are likely to be outgrown by your child. You can, however, assist them in stopping or reducing the amount of nail-biting they do before it becomes a problem. You can combat nail-biting without fighting if you have good communication, make a plan, and operate as a team.

Always consult your pediatrician if you have concerns about your child's nail-biting or any other behaviour. Occupational therapy or another intervention may be beneficial to your kid. You can come up with a strategy that works for your family and your child as a team.

References:

Mott Children's Hospital. (2021). Nail-Biting. Retrieved from https://www.mottchildren.org/health-library/tw9722spec