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Nail-Biting in Children: Care Instructions

Your 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 his or her nails more when stressed. Or he or she 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 his or her 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 his or her nails. First, try to find out why your child does it. Talk with your child or his or her 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. This can prevent irritation and reduce nail-biting.
  • Be supportive and loving. Punishing, nagging, or making your child feel embarrassed may make it worse.
  • If your child bites his or her 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.
  • Paint a bad-tasting polish on your child's nails. There are several nail-biting products available at drugstores. The bad taste will remind your child to stop when the biting starts.
  • Encourage your child to replace nail-biting with another activity. He or she might try drawing, writing, or squeezing clay or dough.
  • Help your child write down when he or she bites his or her 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 his or her nails. These can be reminders not to bite.
  • Teach your child to snap a rubber band on the inside of his or her wrist when the nail-biting starts. This gives your child a negative physical response to nail-biting.

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.