Nail-biting in Children, Tennagers: Causes, Dangers, Ways of Prevention

Nail-biting is a common issue in school-age children and teens. It is generally very common at puberty. It is annoying as well as problematic for their health. When children feel more stressed, it may happen. But like other habits such as thumb sucking, teeth grinding, hair twisting, and nose picking, it usually goes away on its own with time. But what if it doesn’t? Check out here some proven ways to help children to stop biting their nails.

What is Nail-biting?

Nail-biting, known as ‘onychophagia’ is a general stress-relieving habit. Children may bite their nails in times of stress or excitement, or in times of boredom or inactivity. Sometimes, they learn this behavior from family members. But they may bite their nails without realizing that they are doing it. Biting the cuticle and soft tissue surrounding the nail as well as biting the nail itself usually includes nail-biting.

Common Causes of Nail Biting in Children

Research has shown that about 30% to 60% of kids and teens bite their nails. Various reasons are responsible for nail-biting in children like anxiety, stress, boredom, and comfort. Common reasons include:

For Comfort

Actually, nail-biting is a modified form of thumb-sucking that little kids feel comfortable doing when they are playing or being on their own. Like them, children and teenagers bite their nails as it feels comforting to them.


Kids prefer to bite their nails if they feel bored or doing something monotonous. Children and teenagers may do it when they are not involved in an activity and their hands are free; during watching TV or attending a class.

To Relieve Anxiety and Stress

Circumstances at home or school that can cause stress or anxiety provoke nail-biting in teenagers and children. The stressful situations that can cause them to get anxious include Quarrels between family members or parents; Deprivation of a family member or a close one; Divorce; Relocating to a new city or home; Joining a new school; Getting bullied by other kids; Punishment; and The pressure to do better in class or sports.

Imitating Habits of Others

Children pick up the behaviors of others quickly. Nail-biting is one such behavior that is common, and when they see another sibling or a family member doing it, they imitate the habit.


It can be a genetic habit also. This habit develops among those children who experience it in the family, especially in parents.

Dangers and Health Risks of Nail Biting Habit

If this habit simply wears itself out and disappears, there is nothing serious to worry about. But, sometimes it creates dangerous health risks for your child. It could negatively affect your child’s social relationships or interfere with their daily functioning. You will notice that sometimes your child complains that other children are teasing them about their bitten nails.

The noticeable health risk is that it can lead to painful ingrown nails or nail infections caused by bacteria that have entered the damaged skin around the nail.

Not common but chronic nail biters usually, adolescents can damage their nail beds and teeth. This is known as onychophagia. Severe nail-biting is an indication of anxiety.

Proven Ways to Stop Nail Biting in Children

A sturdy dose of self-control is necessary to stop any habit. But in the case of a child who bites their nails, you need to increase self-control — yours plus theirs. Here are proven strategies to help:

Pacify Anxiety

If you feel your child bites his nails more when he or she is stressed or anxious, take time to talk to him. Children as well as teenagers are generally anxious about matters like changing schools, moving to a different place, or conflicts within the family. Make sure you talk with him when he is in the right mood.

Cut nails short

Your toddler can not bite nails if they are not there. So keep their nails well-trimmed. This also saves your kid from bacteria and dirt that are caught under the nails. In the same way, you can educate your teenage son or daughter about the health risks of nail-biting and encourage them to keep their nails short.

Create a code

It would not be easy to stop your kid from nail-biting by telling him always. But you can choose a secret code to use to remind them to stop. That may be a specific word that you say, a touch on the shoulder, or a whistle.

Offer an Alternative

An alternative something can release their anxiety and fidgeting. In this case, you can use a stress ball which is great for releasing anxiety. When children squeeze and roll it in their hands. They can feel relaxed.

Considering the age of your children, you can make them busy with various activities and projects. For children, arts and crafts can be the best option that stimulates their imagination to relieve their stress. Besides, outdoor activities, playtime, and sports are also some of the best ways to release pent-up energy for teenagers.

Make Them Aware of the Habit

Nail-biting is an unconscious habit. Children do not know that they are doing it and hence get surprised when you yell at them to stop. So, you need to talk to the child about the bad sides of nail-bating and suggest ways to make them stop it.

Use a reward system

Children like rewards. So make sure you offer a small prize or reward for each day they don’t bite their nails. At the end of the week, of course, they get to choose a prize instead of nail-biting.

Engage them with busting activities

Engaging them with some creative activities like coloring books, blank drawing pads, pretend play, pillow forts, relieving them from nail-biting. Moreover, you can also distract your child from the habit by taking them to the park, working on a puzzle together, or cooking or baking together.

The Bitter Taste Trick

You will find child-safe liquids available in medical stores that are made to quit the nail-biting habit in children. You could apply one of those to their nails according to the recommendation of your child’s pediatrician. The bitter taste of those liquids may stop this habit.

Source: United News of Bangladesh