Nail biting child

How to Stop Nail Biting in Children & Kids

Do you have a child who continually bites their nails? Are you wondering if there’s an underlying reason for this? Are you concerned that it’ll result in additional health concerns down the road?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you’re not alone. But here’s the problem: figuring out how to stop nail biting in children is easier said than done. 

How to Stop Kids From Biting Their Nails

The last thing you want to do is hope that your child grows out of this habit. If you don’t take care of it while they’re young, it’s a habit your child may carry into their teens and adult life. Understanding why children bite their nails and how to address the habit will allow you to take the appropriate action at the appropriate time. 

Why Do Children Bite Their Nails?

A stressed child may start biting their nails
Stress, anxiety, or copying the habit from someone else can lead a child to start biting their nails

Once you know why your child is biting their nails, it’s easier to implement a treatment plan to help them overcome the problem.  According to an article published on the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) website, nail biting is a common stress-relieving habit. While it’s easy to believe that your children don’t have any stress in their life, nothing could be further from the truth. They worry about things such as making friends, getting good grades in school, and performing well at extracurricular activities. 

Should you notice your kids biting nails, do three things:

  • Pay close attention to when they do it to identify the stress or anxiety trigger, then talk with your child about that trigger and discuss alternative behavior
  • Ask them why they bite their nails and make sure they understand why they should not do it
  • Buy a bitter nail polish, and develop a plan to quit

Strategies To Help Stop Children From Biting Nails

A child with short nails
A child with short nails may stop biting them

There’s no one size fits all strategy to address how to help kids stop biting nails. What works for you may not work for another person, and vice versa. So, your goal is to learn more about different treatment strategies, experiment with them, and pin down the one that has the best chance of yielding positive results.

Here are five nail biting treatments for kids to consider: 

1. Safe and Effective Bitter Nail Biting Polish

Nail biting is unconscious, so use the bitter nail polish flavor to remind them not to do it. For kids, chose one that is safety tested and extremely strong.

2. File and Trim Their Nails Regularly 

By smoothing all edges and minimizing the nail, you lessen the area that your child has to bite. Plus, it reduces the amount of dirt and bacteria under the nails that are eventually transferred to their mouth.

Use a soft (fine-grit) nail file to smooth the edges, and trim any bothersome cuticle hang-nails. You don’t want them to have any reason to bite.

3. Find a Replacement 

This is a nail biting treatment for a child that has been proven successful over the years. For example, if your 10-year-old is struggling with this, provide them with a healthy snack to chew on. Crunchy vegetables are a good place to start. Note: avoiding trading one bad habit for another, such as by giving your child candy to eat when they feel like biting their nails.

4. Use a Reward System

This is a great way to give your child an incentive to stop biting their nails. For example, you can use a sticker chart to track their progress. After they go a predetermined number of days or hours without biting their nails, you can provide a reward such as a small toy or a trip to a local park. 

5. Change Their Focus

When your child is focused on their fingers, they’re likely to chew on their nails when they become anxious. But if you can change their focus, you can help them avoid this. One idea to consider is giving your child a small object to keep their fingers moving. For example, a stress ball in their pocket or fidget ring is a great solution.

Try Not to Make the Nail Biting Worse for Kids

A happy child
A happy child is less likely to bite their nails

Since you want to learn how to get your child to stop biting their nails, it’s natural to bring it up time after time. The problem with this is that it may cause more harm than good. Just because you want to talk about it doesn’t mean your child feels the same way. In fact, they may want to avoid the conversation altogether.

There are a few things you should avoid:

  • Don’t yell “stop” or “that’s gross” every time your child bites their nails
  • Don’t punish your child
  • Don’t embarrass your child, such as by telling them to stop in front of their friends

The more you read about how to get kids to stop biting nails, the more you’ll realize how important it is to take a cautious approach.

When Should I Be Concerned About Child Nail Biting?

Nail biting is a common behavior in some children, but talk to a doctor if you have growing concerns

Generally speaking, nail biting is a harmless habit. This behavior is something your child may experiment with for a few days or weeks and eventually give it up entirely. In most cases, your child should outgrow the habit and you may find the problem goes away on its own. However, you may notice your child picks the habit back up again with a vengeance. If your child’s nail biting comes and goes, and you see the problem getting worse, you may have could cause to have concerns.

Err on the side of caution and consult with your child’s pediatrician if their nail-biting is causing physical harm, such as bleeding fingers and/or sore gums. The question of whether you need to visit a doctor to learn how to stop nail biting in a child is one you shouldn’t sweep under the rug. Just the same as anything else regarding your child’s health, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 


In the section above we discussed how nail-biting in children has the potential to come and go. It’s critical to exercise patience during this time, as becoming upset with your child will only complicate the problem.

Ask your child if anything is bothering them, provide potential solutions, and take deep breaths when you get upset. Tip: Personally learning how to get a child to stop biting nails will help you remain patient, as you know you’re able to assist them. 

Final Thoughts

Learning how to stop nail biting in a child is easier said than done, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking action. Once you have a strategy that seems to be working, stick with it until your child permanently overcomes this habit. And of course, should you run into any trouble, you can turn to your child’s pediatrician for more information on how to get kids to stop biting nails.