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Nail-Biting in Children: Care Instructions


Nail-biting is common in school-age children and teens. It is most common during puberty.

You may notice that your child bites their nails more when stressed. Or your child may do it because another person in the family does it too.

Nail-biting can make your child's fingertips red and sore and make the cuticles bleed. It can also raise your child's risk for nail and mouth infections. And any germs that get in your child's mouth can increase your child's chances of getting sick.

Long-term nail-biting can also prevent normal nail growth. This can cause nails that are an odd shape.

You can help your child stop biting their nails. First, try to find out why your child does it. Talk with your child or their teachers about possible stress at school. Then let your child help choose how to treat it. This can make treatment more successful.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Keep your child's nails trimmed and filed. Keep your child's cuticles moisturized. Short, smooth nails and soft cuticles are less tempting to bite.
  • Be supportive and loving. Punishing, nagging, or making your child feel embarrassed may make it worse.
  • If your child bites their nails because of anxiety or stress, find ways to help your child feel better. For example, encourage physical activity. And give your child a lot of praise and support.
  • For older children, paint a bad-tasting polish on your child's nails. The bad taste will remind your child to stop when the biting starts.
  • Encourage your child to replace nail-biting with another activity. Your child might try drawing, writing, making a fist, or sitting on their hands.
  • Help your child write down when they bite their nails. This can make your child more aware of when it happens. That can help stop the habit.
  • Have your child wear gloves, adhesive bandages, or coloured stickers on their nails. These can be reminders not to bite.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.