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How to Stop Toddler Nail Biting

By Megan Smith ; Updated June 13, 2017

Nail biting is a habit that occurs in individuals of all ages, including toddlers. Nail biting may cause infections in the nail bed, states Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, nail biting can make toddlers more susceptible to colds because bacteria from the hands and under the nails can enter the body. Break your toddler's habit of nail biting early so it does not become a habit that carries on into adulthood.

  1. Explain to your child that biting his nails may make him sick. When you see your child biting his nails, gently but firmly remind him that he should not due to the possibility of illness.

  2. Create a reward system to help your child break the nail-biting habit. Make a sticker chart and place it on the refrigerator. When your child gets through a half-day or day without biting, reward her with a sticker for the chart. When she earns a specific number of stickers -- four or six, perhaps -- reward her with a small prize.

  3. Trim your child's nails regularly to keep them tidy and short. When your youngster's nails stay neat, he may not feel motivated to pick at them or bite them.

  4. Develop a secret sign between you and your youngster that helps her remember not to bite her nails. For example, when you see her begin to chew, get her attention and touch your nose. This can be an affirming way to help her break a habit without embarrassment.

  5. Avoid placing nail-biting deterrents on your child's fingers. There are a variety of foul-tasting solutions available at the drugstore, but as a toddler, your child may not understand the correlation between his nail biting and the bad taste she experiences. If your child still bites her nails when she is older, then nail biting deterrents may be a helpful solution.

  6. Be patient. Your child may be subconsciously biting his nails when he is nervous or bored, and may not even realize he is doing it.

  7. Consult your doctor. If you believe your child's nail biting is not merely a habit but a nervous tic, take your child to her general practitioner. He may recommend you to a specialist to determine if your child's nail biting is a habit she will outgrow or a tic that may be the sign of a more serious disease or trauma.

  8. Tip

    If your child is old enough to understand, assign a code word to remind him not to bite his nails in public.


    Do not put your child in time out or otherwise punish her for biting her nails.

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