Toddler Nail Biting: Why It Happens and How To Stop It

Have you noticed your toddler biting their nails? Sometimes your child may not even be aware that they are biting their nails. There are several reasons why toddlers might bite their nails and these habits may continue till they are older.

Nail-biting is considered to be a nervous or a self-soothing habit and other actions that fall into this category are nose picking, hair twisting, and thumb sucking. Nail-biting can be damaging and it is important to help your toddler get them out of the habit.

Reasons Why Your Toddler Bites Their Nails

Here are some common reasons why your toddler might bite their nails:

  • Stress response – An action like nail-biting may be a response to stress to get relief.
  • Relaxing – Some actions including nail-biting may help your toddler relax and fall asleep.
  • Boredom- Your child may also start biting their nails if they are bored and have nothing to do.
  • Anxiety- Nail-biting is also a response to anxiety.

Strategies to Prevent Nail Biting

Listed below are some strategies to help prevent your toddler from biting his or her nails.

  • Explain to your child- Since your child may not be aware that they are biting their nails, make him or her aware and explain to your child why nail-biting is a bad habit. To help your child stop the habit, it is important to have them on board with you. Your toddler will not stop unless they want to.


  • Cut your child’s nails- Keeping your toddler’s nails trimmed and short at all times will decrease the likelihood of continuing the bad habit. It will also ensure that any dirt or bacteria trapped under their nails is not eaten.


  • Keep them busy- Distract your child from biting his or her nails by offering them other anxiety and boredom-busting options. Keep them busy with a puzzle, a coloring or painting book, baking, and other activities.
  • Use bite-averting nail polish- One option is to use bite-averting nail polish. The taste of the nail polish is sure to remind your toddler to stop biting their nails. There are different options when it comes to bite-averting nail polish and you can speak to your pharmacist for the best options. Some nail polish may contain cayenne or acetone and this might hurt your kids if they rub their eyes, so make sure to pick a safe one!
  • Let them learn from their mistakes- Sometimes children learn through natural consequences. If they get hurt after biting their nails, they are most likely to learn from their mistakes and will stop the habit on their own.
  • Offer substitutes- Let your toddler hold a rubber ball, a piece of fabric, a favorite toy, or another item. This will help to distract them from biting their nails and will serve as a good reminder not to do so. 
  • Reward your child- For each day that your child does not bite their nails, reward them. For instance, you could assign them stickers or points for each time they don’t bite their nails. Setting up a reward system will motivate your toddler to get out of the bad habit.

Do Not Make it Worse

Avoid calling extra attention to your child’s nail-biting habit. If you point out their mistakes, it will make them feel embarrassed and their nail-biting tendencies may get worse. Punishing them, giving long lectures, or yelling at them will not make them stop and may only worsen the issue.

If your child is old enough to understand that it is not a good habit and wants to stop, take steps and measures that will help them.

When You Should Worry

Sometimes nail-biting can lead to very sore and bloody fingers. It can also lead to ingrown nails, damaged skin, and infections. Sometimes those who bite their nails may damage their teeth and nail beds as well.

Contact your doctor if your child has recently developed a nail-biting habit or has other habits like pulling out their hair or picking his or her skin. This may be an indication of excessive anxiety.

Nail-biting may also lead to social issues like other children teasing your toddler. This could harm your child’s self-esteem.

Remember that it takes time and patience to break a bad habit. Steer clear of negative attention in the way of reprimands. Your toddler is just discovering their autonomy and is working towards independence. When toddlers are not allowed to behave with age-appropriate independence, it could lead to other issues like self-doubt.


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