22 answers

Three Year Old Biting Finger Nails- How Do We Stop This?

My 3-year old daughter has discovered her nails! I noticed that I had to cut her nails less frequently. I don't often see her with her hands in her mouth. But I finally caught her about 5 times in the last 3 months biting her nails. She is not an anxious child or anthing. I believe she is doing this at night before falling asleep and that is why we don't see her doing it. Now, she has absolutely no nails. I have tried positive reinforcement with stickers/prizes. I have even tried negative reinforcement by puting lotion on her fingers and she thought it was something bad until she realized it was only lotion. Is there any organic nailpolish or something that I can put on her nails so when she puts her hand in her mouth the bad taste will condition her not to do it? This is an awful habit. I feel that I have to put a stop to it now. Any ideas?

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

My daughter did the same thing. What finally worked is having her pick out some nail polish at the store and we painted her nails. She was so proud of having pretty nails that she slowed down biting them and eventually stopped.

1 mom found this helpful

S.,

Sounds gross but cut a tooth of garlic in half and stab her little nails into the garlic... leave for about 2-5 mins then wash her hands with soapy water.

The smell goes away with the wash but the taste stays embedded in the inside bottom of the nail... each time she puts her hand in her mouth she'll taste the garlic and wah-lah she'll slowly leave that habit as the reminder of garlic will push her to that.

I was a nail bitter as a child and the habit was never taken from me... until I decided as a young adult that enough was enough... now my nails grow nice and long and are beautiful...

besides the garlic is a good nutrient for the nail bed...

Good luck

CB

1 mom found this helpful

More Answers

There's a product called "Stop the Bite" that you paint on your child's fingernails (or fingertips, I suppose!) that tastes awful. It's not organic and I don't know if it's suitable for a toddler. Sometimes I find it at Wal-Mart, in the section with all the nail polish and manicure accessories. Ask your pediatrician if it's safe? It probably is safe, as it tastes so awful your child is not likely to sit there ingesting a lot of it. I don't know how else to stop her habit, because she has to learn to stop on her own. Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful

Hi S.:
I use to be a Nail biter. Mom and dad tried everything under the sun, to get me to quit. Nothing worked. I can tell you, that the reason your daughter does it, is related to stress or boredom. If she is doing this mainly at night,while shes in bed,she most likely has some fears,or has trouble soothing herself to sleep.You may not hear her,but shes obviously laying there biting. My suggestion,would be to spend a little more time calming her down before bedtime.Talk to her or read a sweet story.Many mothers swear that soft music helps calm,and soothe their children to sleep.Talk to your daughter,and ask her why shes nervous,then attempt to resolve those fears she's experiencing.Its a nervous habit S..I wish you and your darlin daughter the best.

2 moms found this helpful

I think all 3 year olds do this. I found a product called "Stop" by Mavala on the internet. It's a clear nail polish that has a bad taste. It worked with my 3 year old last year to stop both the nail bitting and the finger sucking. Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful

I am no expert, and I could be wrong, but to me, when a 3 year old is biting her nails, something is wrong. She's feeling tense, anxious, something. I would do several things. Try totally ignoring the nail biting for awhile (negative attn. is better than no attn. to kids) and in the meantime, give your daughter more "floor time". "Floor time" is when you get down on the floow with her and do exactly what she wants you to do. Turn off the TV and the phone. Don't let anyting except an emergency interrupt this time. She generates the play and is the boss. Let it be all warm and fuzzy and fun. Don't correct her for anything or control the play in anyway. Give her 20-30 minutes a day and I bet within one month she won't be biting her nails anymore. This is not to say that you're not a good mom now. Just that the one-on-one bonding time cures a lot of problems. She could be having an issue at the babysitter or something not related to you. She could feel like she's not getting enough time with you. Whatever it is, the floor time will help. Good luck!!

1 mom found this helpful

My daughter did the same thing. What finally worked is having her pick out some nail polish at the store and we painted her nails. She was so proud of having pretty nails that she slowed down biting them and eventually stopped.

1 mom found this helpful

LOTS of toddlers seem to do this. Even our Pediatrician echoed this.

My daughter did this when she hit toddler-hood. She is 6 yrs. old now, and still occasionally does it. I don't believe that stickers/rewards/treats will help. BECAUSE, it is a sort of an involuntary thing. Its not something they do or don't do 'at-will.'

For our daughter, we just talked with her, we did not 'punish' for it because I don't think it fits the situation. We simply explained to her about hygiene and how 'germs' are found on the fingers and under the nails... and thus, you can get sick. Her Dad/my Hubby, also bites his nails on occasion... and each time he does, he gets sick. For us, this 'method' worked. Or, we tell her simply that if she is going to bite her nails... she HAS to wash her hands first. My daughter does it less now.

Also, my daughter tends to do it when she is falling asleep... it's like a stress reliever and it relaxes her. How do I know? Well I simply asked her 'why' she does it. I don't judge her for it and we don't scold her for it... but we just keep tabs on it, rationally. And, she is now not 'obsessed' about it.

You might also see if your toddler has any stress or anything? Many times, things like this is a 'coping' reliever. They are only children, so their coping skills can be like this.

I would not fret over it... yes, it's something we don't want our kids to do...but, this is a hard nut to crack. Even our Pediatrician does not recommend putting things on their fingers/nails to taste weird. It does not work. The main thing is 'management' of it... and as she gets older, she may not do it anymore. But just watch her hygiene and if she touches gross things/dirty things, make sure you wash her hands.

All the best,
Susan

1 mom found this helpful

S.,

Sounds gross but cut a tooth of garlic in half and stab her little nails into the garlic... leave for about 2-5 mins then wash her hands with soapy water.

The smell goes away with the wash but the taste stays embedded in the inside bottom of the nail... each time she puts her hand in her mouth she'll taste the garlic and wah-lah she'll slowly leave that habit as the reminder of garlic will push her to that.

I was a nail bitter as a child and the habit was never taken from me... until I decided as a young adult that enough was enough... now my nails grow nice and long and are beautiful...

besides the garlic is a good nutrient for the nail bed...

Good luck

CB

1 mom found this helpful

I used to be a nail biter too! I was never an anxious kiddo or filled with anxiety about stuff, but I would bite my nails and not realize I was doing it.

My Mom tried EVERYTHING from those horrible tasting finger polishes to rewards, but I just didn't know I was doing it. My Doc at the time recommended looking at the stressors in my life, and seeing what had changed in my routine, as the habit seemed to be totally subconcious.

For me I had started preschool, and my Mom was pregnant...huge changes for a 3 year old. My Mom talked to me about the changes, and eventually I stopped. But, it never REALLY went away. As a teen and an adult, I have caught myself doing it when I'm stressed or things are out of my control.

There is nothing like the power of conversation...talk to your little girl and try to figure out if there is anything that is bothering her or that has changed that she doesn't understand. Toddlers usually spill really well when they are engaged in actions like playing or eating.

Good Luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Hi S...so I find it funny that I am sitting here dealing wit the exact same issue with my 3 year old daughter..only problem is my daughter bites her nails so far down that they are on the verge of bleeding and she screams in the tub because they burn. I bite my nails as a kid and adult..I do stop occasionally but always find myself chewing..so here I blame myself that it is a learned behavior..not sure. So I can tell you from experiance that it is a totally subconscious thing. You dont even realize you are doing it. Some people say it's due to stress, boredom..maybe but really it just happens. No matter how much you fight with them about it, they will still do it. So the only thing you can do is interfere in it. Growing up my mom used to put a bitter polish on my nails that is designed for that very use...to stop nail biting. We used to get ours from Avon, though I have seen it in drug stores...so you may want to just go browse around..I am doing the exact same thing cause it's got to stop, and even when she is crying that it hurts, I still catch her occasionally with her fingers in her mouth. So hopefully the bitter polish will at least snap her out of it long enough to realize what she was doing and stop. Glad to know my 3 year old isn't the only one gnawing on her fingernails. :o)

1 mom found this helpful

Put hot sauce, tobasco, on her fingers. My parents were a little more organic than that, so they used the aloe plant. you the base, and rub a little on each finger. its not toxic, actually used for healing purposes in ancient hawaii...but the taste alone is sooooo horrible!!!

My daughter started this behavior right around age 3 as well. Her pediatrician advised us to just ignore it, and at age 12 she still bites her nails and cuticles, often to the point that they are bleeding. So, if I had to do it over again, I would have started addressing it much earlier!

When she was age 6, we started addressing the emotional stuff that might have been driving the habit - we had an out of control teen at the time, and DH wasn't dealing with it particularly well. But for DD, the nail biting was already ingrained as a habit, and she often, unconsciously, would have her fingers in her mouth, especially while reading or watching TV - anything that took her mind off the situation at hand. I talked with her about the hygiene aspects, took her for manicures to make her nails pretty (and get the cuticles under control), provided her with toys that she could manipulate while reading (marbles in a soft bag, those squishy things some people use to develop finger and hand strength).

I also told her that I was willing to help her whenever she was ready, and she's made several attempt over the past few years. We approached the bitter nail polish as an aid rather than as a punishment, which was actually true: "this polish is just something to help you remember not to bite your nails when you might be distracted by something else." That said, the drive to bite her nails was so strong she would ignore the polish, and she discovered that when she washed her hands, the polish would wash off as well, which made polishing her nails an all-day activity which was hard to keep up...

Anyway, we were in London this summer and I took her for a manicure and the salon used a product I had never seen before - Mavala Stop. The taste was so revolting that it was an exceedingly effective deterrent, at least until the polish finally wore off (which took DAYS, rather than hours). I asked her if she wanted me to buy a bottle, and she said no way! Then, earlier this month, she requested that I find that product for her, as she was ready to quit again. A few clicks on Amazon and a week later, she had tiny white crescents on her nails. She's very excited. I don't know if it will last, but at least we have another tool in our arsenal!

Best of luck!

Hello folks. I am 56 and have bitten my nails off and on since I was a toddler. Biting nails is often a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder. It helps relieve stress and is often found in people with high anxiety level. I stopped once as a teenager my putting surgical tape on all my fingers for six weeks until my nails grew out. It worked for a while until my father died. Stress. Off came the nails. Then I tried false nails done by a professional. I kept them on for two months until my own nails grew out again. I did not start biting my nails again for 11 years when I had a very difficult pregnancy and bit off all my nails but two. Then I bit them for another 11 years until I went on antidepressants. I never had such long nails. The antidepressants also treated obsessive compulsive disorder. Once I stopped, I slowly went back to the nail biting until I started antianxiety medication. So what I am trying to tell you folks is that torturing your child with bad tasting stuff might help, but what you have to do is help the child relieve the source of anxiety if that is the cause. There is also a genetic component to this. If you have relatives with OCD beware that no amount of torture will sway a true genetic problem. If it is anxiety related then you have a chance. Please don't belittle the child, nag the child, punish the child. Do try the reward system and positive reinforcement. For older girls I highly recommend fake acrylic nails for a short time span to break the cycle. Once she has nails, then try the bad tasting stuff to remind her not to bite. There are a couple of products online that I have used successfully. In order for the treatment to work, you need to obtain the cooperation of your child. Positive reinforcement can work wonders if applied consistently and reward is prompt. This leads to conditioning (think Pavlov's dog). If nothing works, then I think you should take the child to a psychologist first to be tested for OCD, anxiety, depression, etc. I believe that the problem might be genetic because two of my children also have this problem and I tried to help. The only thing that worked for my daughter was the fake fingernails or medication. So that's my personal story and my advice as an adult who still has this problem. IT NEVER GOES AWAY. It is a chronic condition, like diabetes, annoying but manageable.

I found out why my daughter bit her nails and still does at age 19. My son went to speech therapy and while there was sent to occupational therapy. I filled out a sensory sheet it was a question asking if he/she bites on there nails or other things. It's a sensory stimulation of the mouth. One thing the therapist recommended was jumping on the trampoline and deep massage to balance the other sensories in the body. It helps so you don't have such a great need to stimulate the ones in your mouth. Interesting. Good luck. M. R.

I have also noticed my 3 1/2 year old doing this a lot. Doesn't look pretty but I don't know if theres any actual harm. I'm just going to keep asking her to stop & taking her hand out of her mouth if I see it. Actual maybe picking out a nice color for her to wear would encourage her to stop, I'd work the "lets make your nails pretty" angle.

I once found a product in a small nail polish-like bottle at Thrifty. I'm sure it wasn't organic, though. I can't even tell you if it works well because my daughter "accidentally" spilled all of it after only the second application. :\ You DEFINITELY need to do something now! My daughter is 12 and her finger and toe nails are HORRIBLE. She bites her fingernails and pulls off/tears off her toenails. She also used to get "wart-like" things on them. I have tried everything from buying the brush-on product to offering prize incentives- nothing has worked! Good luck stopping your little one!

Hi S.,

My son had the same problem. I ordered Mavala STOP online, and it works great. Stays on for about 3 or 4 days, too. Tastes terrible! Says it's safe for kids....and I can't find any arguements about that. It really, really works.

D.

HI S., two things: you can try hand sanitizer, it tastes bad or you could take her for a professional manicure and put pretty polish on and mayeb she would be motivated to keep them looking pretty. good luck!

My dtr started biting her nails at 2 & she is now 14 & still bites her nails! A few years ago i took her to a therapist & they were trying to diagnose her with ocd & things like that. My dtr is very healthy otherwise. I notice that she only really bites them when she is watching tv & every time i see her i tell her to stop. In the past, i have tried hot sauce, bad tasting nail polish, but nothing worked. At this point, i think it's just a habit. There are times when she will tell me that she is not gonna bite her nails & let them grow out. She does it for a few weeks, but then she's back to it again. Good luck

Tell her you'll paint her fingernails like a grown up lady but she has to stop biting her fingernails because ladies don't do this. Nail polish is okay at this age and it worked with my daughter! Give her the full treatment of trimming, filing and then painting her nails. I think it's Avon that makes polish for little girls. Any polish will work, though. She'll also love the mommy and me time.

I remember my son (who's now 16) doing this for a while. Eventually he just outgrew it. I'm waiting for my daughter (2 years old) to start this habit. Anyway, I didn't try any techniques with my son, he just quit on his own.

Hi S.,

My sister used to do this for years.

There is a clear nail polish on the market that you put on nails and once it dries it is odorless and colorless. It has a bad taste to it so if she chews her nails she will taste the sour taste. In terms of safety you would have to research this. I do not know what it is called but I am sure it is still available at places like Walgreens or Rite Aid. Just google the description and I am sure something will come up, and you can research it from there.

By the way, it has been 20 years since my sister last chewed her nails. If you don't stop it early it can go into teenage and adult years which is what happened to her.

Hi S.,
Maybe if you buy some cute pink polish for her nails this would help. "No Miss" is a brand that has none of the dangerous chemicals that normal nail polish has, and it comes in a variety of colors. It can be purchased at any health food store or on-line.

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