5 Year Old Biting Fingernails

Updated on April 10, 2010
J.M. asks from Fort Collins, CO
9 answers

My 5 year old is biting her fingernails until they bleed. She says she can't stop biting them and has even cried because she is so frusterated she can't stop biting. Any ideas on how to help her stop biting? I would think the pain of bleeding fingers would be enough but it's not.


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answers from Eugene on

I used to bite my nails and then moved on to my cuticles. I have done it for close to 25 years. I am slowly stopping because of my husband. My whole life my mom would get upset and tell me to stop when she saw me picking, but it's compulsive and you just can't stop--you can feel that they are a little rough and you just HAVE to pick at them. But, my husband and I were talking one day about how to stop and he came up with the idea of putting lotion on my hands when I start picking. I'm really bad when I'm watching TV--so now he will rub my hands with lotion. It's actually, really, really effective because 1) it keeps my hands occupied 2) it smooths them out so I don't "need" to pick at them. Maybe try doing something soothing for her when you see doing it. If you don't have a compulsive habit like that it's hard to understand and this is the only thing out of a million that has been effective for me.

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answers from Cheyenne on

I stopped biting my nails when my mom painted them pretty (and truly I thought that biting the nailpolish would poison me...I had an active imagination), but maybe if u took her to get a manicure, having pretty nails would deter her from biting (or get the kid fake nails from the store because she would not be able to bite through those...


answers from Casper on

If she is responsible enough, try letting her chew on gum. It sounds like she has an oral fixation, I still do! gum helps tremendously! Especially when I am nervous or feeling anxious, The more gum I chew the nicer my fingers looks:) You could use it as a reward, Have her try to not bite for a day, and the next day she can chew gum. Try to figure out what triggers her to bite them, if she can help you, then when she notices it happening, she can just ask you for a piece of gum. If she is in school, perhaps you could work with her teacher on figuring out something she could chew on or snack on during the school hours, if gum is not allowed.
Good luck



answers from Provo on

I also bit my nails as a kid - sometimes to the point of bleeding. I don't now (except when I can't find the nail clippers, but then I stop); about 5th or 6th grade I decided to quit- it was difficult, but I did. The things that helped: gum, clear nail polish (it tastes gross and acts as a reminder) and crochet. From the other end of things - I'm a parent now - I notice that I can clearly reduce my children's stress level and help with any undesirable behavior by just watching and saying something kind or engaging in a pleasant task together if they're getting anxious. That can also help.


answers from Los Angeles on

My 4-year-old was starting to bite her fingernails. Her dad also has this nervous habit. I don't let her wear nail polish, but decided that I would begin allowing her to wear clear polish if she could overcome biting her nails.

After I made this promise to her, we had lunch with my mom, her grandmother. My mom has long, beautiful painted nails and my daughter noticed. She told me she wanted nails just like grandma, so I said, ok! I told her that if she stopped biting her nails, I would allow her to grow her nails out a bit and we would do manicures with clear polish. It worked and she no longer bites her nails! (FYI, we're real natural types, very conscious about using healthy body products, so I checked on www.cosmeticsdatabase.com for the "healthiest" polish out there and that's what I bought for her)



answers from Denver on

I agree with the nail polish, that helped me, but I still would chew down my nails if I was nervous until about high school when I started to care how my fingers looked. There is also a product called Thum, you get it at the pharmacy. ( no prescription just behind the counter) It has cayenne pepper in it and tastes nasty. It seemed to work great with my daughter, but you do have to apply it at least once a day. Good luck.



answers from Nashville on

I did this my whole life. The only thing that stopped me was when I got pregnant and my nails got thick and pretty very quickly, and I was able to stop picking at them. It is a nervous habit. I know that for me at least it is part of my anxiety issues, which I can trace back to even when I was 5 or so. I will still bite mine or pick at them if one breaks, I just can't seem to leave them alone. And no, even gnawing them to a bloody pulp doesn't stop it, nor does the nasty tasting stuff. It only takes a second before the taste is gone and you can keep chewing. My mother would yell at me when she saw it, which just added to the anxiety. If you can get her to stop now it will be so much better, but it is going to be hard. Some things that I tried over the years that helped a little was to put bandaids on them at all times when I was home, having them painted and filed. If you can get her to stop long enough to let them grow out a little, and then give her nightly little manicures and remove all rough edges, that might help. Make sure she has enough calcium in her diet to make them stronger. And I don't know how to tell you to go about it, but maybe look into seeing if she has problems with and helping her cope with anxiety. I can't say that hers is related to that, but I am positive mine is. And I honestly can think back to some of the things I did and thought as a very young child and know that the anxiety was a problem even then. Good luck!


answers from Jacksonville on

It is a compulsive habit. I don't know where it comes from... but it isn't something she is choosing to do. Trust me. I used to do it as a child. After several YEARS of struggle, I managed to stop.. but as an alternative I began picking/chewing on my cuticles and skin around the sides of my nails. I still do it. And I can't help it.

My daughter also started chewing her nails. I think it starts off with maybe a broken nail or split or knick in the edge of one, so the child nibbles it down to try to smooth it out. Well, as you can figure.. that doesn't work so well... but it becomes a habit VERY quickly.

To help my daughter stop (and she doesn't chew her nails any longer.. though she HAS started on her cuticles, just like I did), I let her chew gum so she was keep her fingers out of her mouth. Being busy with her hands is the biggest help you can give her. Sitting watching TV is the WORST for nail biting!

If you can put a band-aid on her nails (or at least the worst ones) that can help her leave them alone. Or maybe buy her some "fancy" gloves to wear (like Easter gloves?). Give her small toys to manipulate (think legos and things that take two hands) or a handheld video game (Leapster? or a DS) that requires her to hold with one hand and use the stylus with the other. Also, give her manicures. Put lotion on her hands often.. as that is when I notice I pick at my nails and cuticles the most.. when they are dry and have rough poke-y areas. You can try painting her nails, too. Sometimes it helps b/c it changes the texture of what they are chewing. Just be careful of the "kiddie" polishes, because I have noticed that they are very goopy and peel off after a bath on almost the first day. Just not very good quality.

Every time you see her with her finger in her mouth... say... "fingers out of the mouth".. but don't get upset or angry with her. Just be matter of fact. She is NOT doing this to get on your nerves or for attention or anything like that. It is just a compulsive thing. I don't know why. Maybe some psychologist out there can explain it to us.... My husband doesn't "chew".. never has. My son only does it if he rips one.. it never became a habit.
So I don't know why I did, or why it became an issue for my daughter.



answers from Colorado Springs on

You are not alone! I'm interested in reading the responses becasue my 4 yr old son bites his so short they sometimes bleed.
I do know they sell some stuff for thumb suckers that you can put on that burns when it touches your mouth. Maybe we should both try that? Or put bandaids on all her fingers until she breaks the habit! Sorry, I'm not much help.

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