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Nail Biting

Is nail biting common?

Nail biting is a common habit. It is usually not a serious problem for children. Almost half of all teens bite their nails. Most children who bite their nails eventually stop the habit, but it may last well into adulthood.

Does nail biting cause problems?

Most children that bite their nails have no problems. In some cases, nail biting may cause:

  • A bacterial infection
  • Warts around the nail bed
  • Bleeding
  • More colds and other infections by spreading germs from fingers to the lips and mouth
  • Permanent nail damage

Why does my child bite his nails?

Some of the reasons children bite their nails include:

  • Stress, frustration, or anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Seeing other children do it
  • Poorly trimmed nails

How can I help my child?

Punishing or shaming a child for nail biting is not helpful. Try to figure out why your child is biting his nails.

  • If your child is under a lot of stress, try to reduce the stress. For example, if being bored, watching scary videos, or problems at school stresses your child, talk about ways to handle those situations.
  • Cutting long nails helps some children. Nails can also be smoothed so that they do not bother your child.
  • Direct your child's attention away from nail biting. It may help if your child keeps his hands busy, eats carrot sticks, or chews gum.
  • If you have an older child who wants to stop nail biting, help your child make a plan to break the habit. It may help to wear gloves, put Band-Aids on the fingernails, or put a bitter-tasting chemical the nails. It may also help to have something else to do with their hands, such as playing with a "worry stone" or small ball in their pocket. Let your child decide what might help her break the habit. Praise your child when she makes progress.
Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-02
Last reviewed: 2014-05-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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