How to get a child to stop nailbiting? Talk amongst yourselves.

Amazon: The Berenstain Bears and the Bad HabitHow do you stop a child from biting his nails? Brian needs our advice:

My five year-old son has fallen in the habit of biting his nails. It's getting worse, with his skin cracked and peeling — sometimes even bleeding. We've tried friendly reminders, gently taking his fingers from his mouth, over-the-counter chemicals, and even Band-Aids covering the nails on all ten fingers. Nothing has helped and I'm worried he's going to get sick.

Any nailbiting advice the wonderful folks at Parent Hacks could suggest would be much appreciated.

Sigh. As adult nailbiters will tell you, nailbiting can be as persistent as thumbsucking. The good news is, at this age, you can talk to your child to gather some clues about the problem.

Why is he biting his nails?

Kids bite their nails for all sorts of reasons. For some, it just feels good. For others, it's an unconcious habit that calms anxiety or "the fidgets." (Many distractable kids are more able to listen when their hands or bodies are active. Biting one's nails fits that bill.)

Step #1 is a low-key, information-gathering chat. When does he bite his nails? When people are talking? When he's going to sleep? All the time? When he bites his nails, how does it feel?

An age-appropriate book may help here. When my son was little, the Berenstain Bears opened a conversation about his excessive throat-clearing.

Keep the tone light and non-worried; more curious, as in "Let's see if we can solve this mystery!" Also, asking why he bites his nails probably won't yield a useful response, so better to gather facts and come up with your own (flexible) conclusions.

If he really has no idea when he bites his nails (it could be mostly unconscious behavior), suggest a day or two of data collection. A little chart with checkboxes could be fun way to increase his awareness and help him feel more in control of the situation.

Brainstorm temporary "replacement" behaviors that solve the problem.

If it's the physical "feel good" he gets from nailbiting, how about some gum? If he needs something to keep his hands busy, how about a squishy ball or toy he can keep in his pocket?

Track progress, reward improvement, note problems, tweak.

Again, having something tangible can really help kids "see" their improvement. Star charts, checklists…one Parenthacker even suggested using a homemade jigsaw puzzle to reward gradual improvement.

Hopefully this will give you a boilerplate for breaking any bad habit.

Parenthackers: How did you help your child to stop nailbiting?


  1. Christina says

    I’m so glad you posted this. I know my kids learned from me. I was able to get my son to stop by bribing him with Legos. It only took a few months and he has broken the habit and not returned for a few years now. My daughter is another issue. She started much younger and doesn’t bribe easily.

  2. S says

    I hate to say this – but I’m 43 and still strugle with this daily. I have ups and downs but eventually end up biting them again. Tried all kinds of ideas, but it seems like its a very ingrained habit…

  3. Emma says

    My four-year-old was biting her nails and chewing on her fingers, seemingly unconsciously, sometimes to the extent that they would hurt. I never needed to cut her fingernails, because they was never anything to cut. Her pediatrician suggested that, rather than verbally correcting her, we work out a non-verbal cue I could give her when I noticed her doing it. The cue we agreed on was that I would tap my chin with my knuckles. I did this; she would sometimes seem a little annoyed, but would generally stop. A few months later, she mentioned that I should cut her nails, and I saw to my amazement that she did, indeed, have a little length to each nail. I don’t really know if the cue worked, or, as I suspect, she just grew out of it, but six months later she still doesn’t do it at all. Now, how can I get her to stop chewing on the silverware at meals?!

  4. Helen says

    Managed to stop my 6 year old at Christmas by bribing her with painting them but since then she has restarted and they are worse than ever. What can I do.

  5. says

    My first step would be to figure out a way to help him WANT to stop if he doesn’t already. If he doesn’t want to stop, he won’t. I bit my nails for most of my life and finally managed to stop at 27 (!) because I wanted to have my nails painted for my wedding. One thing to note, if he bites the nails down to te he nub, when he first stops biting them, there is an actual physical discomfort from swelling at the base of the nail. It goes away in a few days, but it’s something to be aware of and be sympathetic to. It’s an awful feeling, and it was the hardest part of quitting for me. Once it went away, it got much easier.

  6. Simona says

    Clip those teeny nails constantly for a few days.. Any corners or roughness needs to be removed.. It’s habitual to mess with those jagged edges.. I was on it for a few days and broke my 5yr old son and hubby of the habit!!

  7. Catherine says

    My 9 year old loves the look of her Aunty’s professionally manicured nails. So I told her if she stops biting her own nails and lets them grow to just beyond the end of her fingers then I will take her to have a manicure. I didn’t think it would work but surprisingly it has! So, with some children, it may just be a matter of finding something thy REALLY want and use it as a reward. When I asked my daughter HOW she stopped, she said every time she found herself biting her nail she would think about how great they would look with polish and diamante, and then put her hands behind her back. I’m very proud of her.

  8. Christine says

    We had success with Mavala Stop (ordered online). My six year old son would bite his nails all the time. we tried the bandaid technique and it worked as long as the bandaids were on the fingers, but not when we took them off. With the Mavala Stop, we had to make sure to reapply it every few days so that the bad taste would be strong. No, he didn’t like having it on his nails because they tasted bad. It took a few months before we tried to go without it. The habit was broken and he doesn’t chew his nails anymore.

  9. nailbiter says

    I have a tip: don’t stop them, let them stop whenever (if) they want. I am 27, I bite my nails since I was 3 and it is a habit I genuinely enjoy, with the added benefit that my nails are always short which I find extremely convenient (never scratched my kid!). My nails aren’t pretty in the traditional sense, but if I ever cared about that, I would have stopped biting them.

    Of course, you should teach them to never put dirty hands in their mouth, but as long as they are clean you should recognize it is their body and their choice to stop whenever they want. Most children outgrow the habit anyway. There could be a problem if they do it unthinkingly (I’ve seen people do it in public and it looks quite ugly, plus it isn’t hygienic to randomly put your hands in your mouth). Instead of telling them to stop, maybe you could ask: “Are you choosing to bite your nails right now?” This brings it to their attention without starting a confrontation. They’ll probably always say yes but then stop shortly afterwards if they weren’t doing it on purpose.

  10. nailbiter says

    Oh, and by the way, those bitter nail paints are a terrible idea. I would just bite my nails through the horrible taste, but the worst part is that it would get into ANY finger food and ruin the meal. It’s amazing the amount of food we eat off our hands: fruit, sandwiches, crisps, chocolate bars: all ended up tasting disgusting when I inadvertently lick a finger. It was a nightmare.

  11. says

    One strategy you might want to try is to let your child know that many people bite their nails, but we don’t do it in public places. So, if he wants to bites his nails, he will have to do so in his bedroom or in the bathroom. This can normalize the process, and keep the problem behavior from escalating in to a larger battle, but the condition of having to do it away from reinforcing environments (TV, Video Games, Parents attention) can greatly decrease the likelihood of the behavior being displayed. In the end, it becomes more trouble than it’s worth to chew the nails. I’ve seen this used very well on nose picking.

  12. Danni says

    My daughter sucked her thumb and rubbed the tip of her nose simultaneously as a toddler. Nothing — and I mean nothing — could get her to stop. Not even the open, infected, gaping wound that she produced on her nose. It was horrible! We tried everything under the sun … and then we bought mavala stop from Amazon (something another commenter mentioned). And it worked within a matter of days. That stuff was miraculous for us. And I’m not affiliated with the product and this is a real review!

  13. Joyce says

    Look at successes instead of failures. If they quit biting their nails for even one day, focus on that. That is a success. Have them try growing one nail out at a time. They can nibble on all the other nails but one, then after that nail is grown out, add another nail that they cannot bite. Soon all their nails will be grown out. If they regress and bite them all off again, focus on the fact that they grew them all out once, they can do it again. Keep everything positive.

  14. HFH says

    2 years of braces in my early teens cured me of nailbiting… my fingertips just didn’t fit between the braces right to be able to bite them. Occasionally I will bite them unconsciously when reading or watching an intense story-line, but other than that, I’m cured.

  15. MotherOfBean says

    My 4 year old and I (aged 35) stopped biting our nails together. For her, having her nails painted helped. For me, imagining dog poo under my nails.
    It’s an ongoing struggle for both of us at times, but we’re getting better! Her ability to keep me accountable helps with her wanting to do better when I check her nails out.

  16. Sara says

    my four year old was biting for about six months, I think it started when I wasn’t quick enough clipping his nails when needed. Just reading the Berenstain Bear book was enough for him to stop with the nails, but now he puts his hands in his mouth all the time. My toddler is now doing the same thing! My mom’s suggestion was to give him a koosh ball or something to hold. I just got one so we will see how it goes.

  17. Igor says

    strike them with rod when you see first they chews nails. they will no bite more of nails. if do strike stronger.

  18. Debbie says

    I am 56 years old and have biten my nails since I was at least 10. Tried all kinds of things to no avail. This year on January 3rd, I decided to go have Harmony Gelish nail polish applied at a nail salon for $10. It lasts longer on your nails than regular nail polish but has to be cured with either a UV or LED light and dries instantly. It lasts me about 2 weeks before I have to go back and have it applied. It is a lot cheaper than acrylic nails. I do a manicure myself so I don’t have to pay for that. You can also buy all the supplies and do it yourself. I have not bitten my nails since then. I have finally found a solution and my nails look great now.

  19. says

    Nail biting may lead to gum bleeding and a lot of oral problems because of the bacteria that might transfer to your kids mouth. These tips are very helpful and not only stop this annoying habit but it can help improve your oral health.

  20. Theresa says

    Wow Nailbiter, what are you even doing on this page? This is a page where parents are looking for answers! You sound like a know it all!
    Are you even a parent? I have NEVER seen or heard 1 parent that was trying to help their child to stop biting their nails because their nails are “UGLY”.
    As a matter of fact I don’t even recall that even being last on any parents list.
    Shame on you!
    My Daughter is 10 And has many times accidently ripped of her hole nail.
    We have tried everything. She cries and “I JUSTNEED HELP!”
    It is heartbreaking. She gets these awful painful infections in her fingers and toes and we spend a several days soaking them in warm water with Epsom Salt. There isn’t any nail to paint.
    Shes does it in school and she’s anxious. So I try not to push to hard because it makes it worse and she beats herself up more. No one is more upset than her that she bites her nails, I refuse to make it any harder than she already has it. It’s heartbreaking. She’s only 10 for god sakes.I’m hoping this will be the summer we break this habbit since she is home with me all day.

  21. Maureen says

    I had acrylic nails put on when I was 23 so that I could stop biting my nails. It worked b/c they are thicker & you notice more when they are in your mouth b/c the normal “nibbling” won’t work.

  22. Chandra says

    Theresa sounds like she has been through what I am starting to go through. My daughter is 3 1/2 years old and has been biting her nails for about the last 6 months. Just recently she has started biting and possibly picking them so had that she is taking huge chunks of her nail off. They bleed and are very painful for her. I fear most of all that she will get sick from the germs or get infections on her hands and possibly damage her nails and nail beds for good. I don’t want to punish her but I feel very lost as to a solid way to help her break this habit. Help is much needed!

  23. says

    I’ve just read the comments about adults and their children biting their nails. It’s sad. For the past few months, I have been putting together information on the subject. I bit my nails right up to my late 20’s. (Even my toe nails when I was a kid not unlike other children). I was then cured by a fantastic proceedure. After all these years, I put the information and process on a website. I’m sure you’ll find the info usefull but more so – the process – I call it a cure. (Theres no liquids, books, CD’s etc)
    It’s not the best of sites and indirect searches may not find it.
    Thanks all the best of luck to you.