You have been increasingly aware that your child seems to have their fingers in the mouth at many a time. Sometimes it is while watching television, at other times while finishing homework. At any rate, the habit is annoying and unpleasant and you would like to help them stop.
For this it is first necessary to identify the causes that trigger the habit:
Stress: If your child may be going through some mild anxiety which could be invisible to you. For example, they could have started a new school, or they have friends’ issues. Sometimes the reasons are less severe. Like while watching television it could be the suspense in a story that is the trigger for it. It could be their way of coping with minor stress.
Boredom: This could just be a way for them to relieve boredom. In which case, in all likelihood, they will outgrow the habit themselves.
However if you do feel your intervention is needed to overcome this habit, here are some of the things you could do:
- Talk to them: While your long term goal can be to prevent them from biting their nails, the short-term goal has to be to address the trigger. So try talking to them and identify the stress or anxiety that acts as a cause. Help them handle it.
- Do not nag or punish: Try explaining to your child that it is an annoying habit, as gently as possible. If you pressure them to stop, you will just add to their stress and risk intensifying the behaviour Instead keep reasonable goals. Like, “You cannot bite your nails while having meals”.
- Make them aware: Nail biting is a habit most children commit to unconsciously. So your first step has to be to make them aware of it. It is likely that their friends or teacher have also drawn their attention to this habit. Tell them that it is a mere habit and you will help them break the habit. However do remember this is easier said than done. Do not give in to your exasperation and make it a power struggle. Instead, make your child help realize that they should stop and that you are there to support them to do so.
- Keep the hands busy: Give them alternatives to keep their fingers busy. If the habit is borne out of boredom, this will work well. Encourage them to play with play-dough, colour, paint, and draw.
- Try remedies: Once they are ready to break the habit, you have won half the battle. There are foul- tasting solutions available that can be applied to the nails that can prevent the habit. Another method is to wrap adhesive bandages around the nails. Keep the nails trimmed and neat and brag about how great they look. Girls can be encouraged to manicure and paint their nails.
- Keep a code: Instead of saying “Do not bite your nails” keep a secret code between the two of you. Every time they do it in public, says the code instead. This saves them the embarrassment and also helps them become aware that they are doing it.
- Change diet: One of the rare reasons why they bite their nails is a deficiency of calcium. You could increase the intake of calcium in their diet to address this problem.
- Reward and praise: Like any other unacceptable behaviour, biting nails is also a habit that has to be addressed with a lot of love and concern. Reward and praise your child whenever they are able to control the habit for a long period of time.
Remember that different child respond differently to the techniques and you might have to try a variety of them before you are successful. So keep the faith and keep trying.