Stopping Toddler Nail-Biting

14 July 2014

This is my optimistic post on the nail-biting finale at our house. And by nails I mean fingernails and toenails!

It was over a year ago when I noticed that Sugar almost took out my eyeball with an itsy-bitsy fingernail. I quickly trimmed her nail and turned round to do Spice's. I was pleasantly relieved to see that her nails were still short and thought nothing of it. That is until I walked into her room one night and found her chomping furiously on her nails. Ah ha! So that's where all the fingernails went. 

I bought one of those nasty tasting polish things and applied to her nails, hoping to nip the habit in the bud. She kept chomping but now was also gagging on the taste of the polish. I panicked about her choking and never used the polish again. 

Until last month! Spice told me she had an "owie" on her foot and when I bent down to take a look I was appalled by the fact that she had almost no more toenails. Her fingernails were bitten to the cuticles and the toenails were not faring any better. To make matters worse, Sugar was ALSO now biting her fingernails. It was time for action.

What didn't work
I bought some chewelry (chewable jewelry) last year for the Spice to distract her from chewing on her nails. She liked to wear it, but never chewed on it.

What I did wrong
I showed Spice my fingernails and told her they were pretty and hers were ugly because she was biting on them. She cried and I felt really bad at my choice of words. So much for saying I want to foster positive body image in my girls and then turning round and telling them a body part was ugly. I really messed up on that one.

What worked
Thank God for the multiple opportunities for do-overs in parenting. Instead of emphasizing a negative, I tried to put a positive spin on the situation. I got a pedicure just before our trip to Nigeria and Spice was really entranced with my painted toes. I made her a promise that if she stopped biting her nails, I'd paint them pink. She bought it! They both did. 

What Helped
Since most of the nail biting happened when they were in bed, I had them sleep with socks on their hands for a couple of weeks to help break the habit as well. No access to nails = no biting
This is the longest her nails have been in 2 years!

What was needed
Imagination and perseverance because multiple times a day, both girls would assure me that they were no longer biting their nails and could they have the pink nails now. I'd say no, their nails need to be longer. After a week, to make sure they still kept their eye on the ball, I painted their thumbs and big toes pink. They were ecstatic. A couple of weeks later, their nails were indeed longer and I painted a rainbow of colors on their nails. Looks like the nail biting episode is over

If you had asked me 5 years ago, I'd have told you my kids' nails would not see polish until they were done with high school. I was such a confident mother before I actually had kids!

Twin Parenting Lesson 4: It's ok to appeal to your kids' vanity sometimes

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