No, I didn’t teach my almost-three year old how to bite his nails. But I’m a reformed (well, mostly reformed) nail biter, and according to Levi’s pediatrician, the bad habit is genetic.
Or did he learn the behavior by watching me? I’ll admit it: When I’m feeling overwhelmed or particularly stressed, my fingernails sometimes find their way back into my mouth.
Unfortunately, breaking the nail biting habit in a child is different than breaking the habit in an adult. When I was in my twenties, these were the two things that helped me stop biting my nails:
Acrylic nails. When my nails were painfully short, I would get acrylics. Not only was it harder to bite plastic tips, but concealing my chewed-up fingernails made me feel more confident. More confidence somehow equaled less nail biting.
Regular manicures. When my natural nails grew long enough, I’d have the acrylics removed and get regular manicures to maintain the length. Yes, the acrylics probably made my nails weaker, but keeping them polished helped prevent them from immediately breaking. I was less likely to bite my nails when they looked clean and colorful, but I’d have to get them repainted at the first sign of chipping or else I’d pick (or chew) off the peeling nail polish.
Obviously, I’m not about to put acrylics on Levi’s nails. I suppose I could paint his nails with sparkly or neon polish, but I’m not sure my three-year-old son needs to be sporting a full manicure. An alternative might be a bitter-tasting nail biting treatment combined with a children’s book about bad habits. However, if Levi really does share my nail biting genes, it’s likely he’d either get used to the taste of the treatment or realize he can pick it off his nails!
I suppose I could do nothing and just wait for Levi to outgrow his nail biting habit. According to this Washington Post article, chronic nail biting most commonly begins in childhood, peaks in adolescence and then tapers off — and only 10 to 20 percent of adults still bite their nails.
Yeah, right. I have to do something. It’s unsanitary for Levi to constantly have his hands in his mouth (despite our best efforts to have him frequently wash his hands, they’re bound to pick up germs), and he chews his nails down so far that he’s complaining they hurt. Plus, if he’s biting his nails because he’s feeling anxious about something, I want to teach him better ways to cope.
Have you had success breaking your child’s nail biting habit? Were they as young as Levi? I’d love to hear how you did it!
(my Instagram photo)