14-year-old cuticle chewer

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  November 9, 2009 06:00 AM

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Question: In the past year, my 14-year-old daughter has begun a nasty and disgusting habit -- she chews her fingernails off and the skin around them. Outside of school (and other similarly public venues), she nearly always has a hand in her mouth, and in her trail, she leaves bits of skin and nail all over the house. It is particularly evident on the dark couch after she's been watching TV for awhile. Her nails are a mess -- red and chewed up, plus I'm concerned about the germs going in, particularly with the swine flu treat for her age group. I've suggested she sit on her hands, wear gloves, etc., but she's not interested in stopping. How can I get her to drop this awful habit?

From: US Patriot, Wakefield


Hi USPatriot --

Honestly? I'd be more worried about why she started in the first place than about getting her to stop. Kids turn to these kinds of habits as a source of comfort or control and when a 14-year-old picks up a habit like this, it's a pretty safe bet that she's feeling stress of some kind. It could be anything from worry about academics and whether she'll be able to go to a "good" college to a reaction to social pressure from her girl friends, to sexual pressure she's feeling from her social group.

Getting to the bottom of the cause is not easy, especially at this age. About the best thing you can do is spend quality time with her doing something pleasurable as a way to strengthen your bond and get her to open up. Sometimes, just letting her know that you know this can be a stage of life when there's lots of stress may be enough to get her to open up or to feel that she's supported.

Getting her to stop? It's never easy to break children of nervous habits.

Clinicians will tell you that the only way to get a child to drop a habit is for the child to want to stop. And what typically makes that happen isn't going to be anything you say or do as the parent, it's going to come from being teased by her peers (who may well be the source of stress to begin with!) or from seeing that it annoys a best friend. Even if you warn her that picking could have this effect, she likely won't believe you, so save your breathe.

Two ways you might be able to help her stop:

1. Tell her about someone you knew as a teen who was teased by peers because of his nervous habit.

2. Offer support: "If you want to stop picking, let me know, I might have some ideas about how you could stop." The best strategy is to help her figure out something else she can do when she feels the need to pick, for instance, to carry an object in her pocket that she can finger; or to chew gum. Another suggestion: she carries a piece of paper in her pocket and marks it every time she notices someone is noticing that she's picking. Tell her, "Then you can decide for yourself if this is a problem.''

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33 comments so far...
  1. Good luck. I'm 38 and my nails are always chewed to the bone, and my cuticles are always a ragged mess. I've always been a nail biter - as long as I can remember. I figure I haven't died yet. I don't smoke, gamble, or drink to excess. I can have one vice.

    If it is something that is bothering her, definitely get to the bottom of the problem. But no amount of nagging can make a dedicated nail biter change if they don't want to. My mom still tries from time to time - never has worked.

    Posted by BMS November 9, 09 07:57 AM
  1. We've had some success transferring the chewing habit to a teething necklace. Smartmom teething bling has some nice ones of food-grade silicon - no BPA. Still chewing, just less gross. And the nails are still chewed time to time, just not completely to the quick. It's hard.

    Posted by Lizzie November 9, 09 09:13 AM
  1. Unless she wants to stop - she won't. I did the same thing when I was her age and finally realized how disgusting it is so I stopped. It's not the easiest thing to stop, but hardly an insurmountable habit to break.

    Posted by Dad November 9, 09 09:35 AM
  1. My fifteen year old daughter did the same thing. I had the same concerns with Swine Flu and germs in general as well as how gross it was.

    I took her for a manicure and agreed that any week she made it through without biting and chewing that I would take her for another one.

    We are four weeks in and I can actually see white on the tips of her nails. The manicurist trims all of the peeling cuticles so there is little left to chew on.

    Good Luck.

    Posted by Sarah November 9, 09 09:52 AM
  1. Truly one of the grossest habits in the world. A biter sat next to me on the T the other day and I had to move my seat. I thought I was going to lose my breakfast!

    I agree, though, that something is going on for her to start this up at her age. Good advice, Barbara! And hopefully some peer pressure will make her stop the biting. Best wishes!

    Posted by just_cos November 9, 09 09:53 AM
  1. I was a picker too - and still am although to a much lesser extent. Here's what never worked for my parents:
    1. Putting me in therapy. It made me feel broken just because I idly picked and led to me lashing out.
    2. Yelling.

    It's just the way I've been since I can remember. We all have nervous habits like fiddling with jewelry, tugging our ears, rubbing our faces. I know some people who are surreptitious sniffers - that is, when they're nervous or stressed they smell their hands (discreetly) as a source of comfort.

    Get to the bottom of her habit since this is obviously not something she's done all her life...but be gentle when doing so.

    Posted by phe November 9, 09 10:11 AM
  1. I have been a nail biter for as long as I can remember (I'm 26 now)- its a nasty habit and the ONLY thing that has worked is a product you can buy at the drug store (and maybe online) called "bite it" with a red line going through it (like no a "no smoking" sign). I brush it on my nails and my cuticles once a day- it tastes awful. Also, offer to buy her manicure after using the "bite it" stuff for about a week. This is the only thing that has ever worked for me...some people just have a nervous habit. Also- dont stop burshing it on until the nail biting has stopped for at least a couple months.

    Posted by L123 November 9, 09 10:46 AM
  1. I started biting in 1st grade--I remember my mother trying to get to the bottom of it, asking my why I started doing it, what was bothering me, but to be honest, I really had no idea what was behind it.

    What really helped me was seeing a few pictures of myself in the background of photos where I had my hand in my mouth. I remember thinking, is this really how I am presenting myself?! It took a long time, but once I decided I wanted to stop, I did.

    There are still days when I am incredibly stressed that I will find myself biting my nails, but it is not nearly as frequent.

    Good luck, try to be patient-- I know how frustrating this was for my mother!

    Posted by Olo November 9, 09 11:10 AM
  1. There's nothing you can do to stop her. Making a big deal about it only makes it worse. It's a stress habit -- one that I've struggled with for as long as I can remember (I'm 26) and many of my friends struggle with it, too. My sibs don't bite or claw at their cuticles, so I'm not sure where I picked it up. You can always tell how much stress is currently in my life by taking one look at my hands, especially my thumbs, which bear the brunt of it.

    The "bite it" stuff doesn't work if you wash your hands regularly or are willing to put up with the bad taste. Manicures don't stop it, just make my fingernails hurt from the buffing after the polish comes off. I can't bear to have any white showing at the top of my fingernails. I've managed to corral the biting when I realized that I started doing it as a nervous habit, but that it would continue because I became obsessed with making it "fixed" (smooth skin again) and would keep biting at it. Now I keep nail/cuticle clippers, as well as emery boards, everywhere (my purse, my desk, my car, my bedside) to head it off. It helps, but that habit never goes away (I also mangle my thumbs in my sleep with my other fingers - short of wearing gloves to bed, which I can't stand, there's nothing I can do about it).

    Posted by Anne November 9, 09 11:22 AM
  1. I'm a nail biter myself, and so is my daughter. The only thing I can think of is maybe letting her chew gum all the time. Chewing is a soothing mechanism and I doubt her brain would care what she's chewing.

    The problem is, I know from being around horses -- once a habit like this starts, even if you remove the stressor, the habit doesn't go away. :( Humans might be easier, though.

    Posted by Fuzzlizard November 9, 09 11:32 AM
  1. I was a regular biter, and now I have managed to curb it but I am not fully reformed. For me things that trigger me going back to my old ways are stress and boredom and to a lesser extent dry skin. I hate the feel of hangnails or dry skin catching on clothing etc. I started doing my own nails and found if they have a little bit of color I tend not to bit them. As my nails grow back out and they have paint on them it is easier to see how much stuff is trapped under the nail and that is a turn off for me.

    I also have a bizillion files of various sizes, shapes etc in my purse, my desk at work and a few different locations at home so they are always within easy reach so I can immediate file either a rough nail or a bit of dry skin so that I don't feel the need to bite. I have also been a lot more vigilant about wearing gloves and using a hand lotion often (more now that it is for me effectively winter) so that cuts down on the dryness.

    The big thing is your daughter has to want to stop, it kind of is like an addition if she doesn't want to stop you really are not going to be able to stop it.

    Posted by On the mend nail biter November 9, 09 11:39 AM
  1. Stop picking on her and she won't be such a nervous wreck.

    Posted by bosfiddle November 9, 09 11:41 AM
  1. A person in my family in his sixties, is a well known and respected professional at absolutely the top of his field, and he bites his nails and cuticles all the time. They are a mess! I think he has done it all his life. His fingernails are quite deformed. He is a wonderful person, who doesn't seem to have a lot of neuroses and he is calm, kind and generous. So who knows? Doesn't seem to have hurt him physically or professionally.
    But you could tell her that her nails will stop growing correctly and she might regret that later.

    Posted by Hmmm November 9, 09 12:28 PM
  1. I did the same thing for years (although I can't recall why I started). I think if it's going to stop, it'll do so on her time. However, I have to say the manicure idea would have totally worked for me. To a lesser extent, that's how I did stop when I was 18. I simply painted my nails this awesome purple color and decided I liked it too much to ever bite again. And then I stopped. I almost never paint my nails now but they are a nice length with white tips. If she's into getting her nails done, maybe that's worth a shot.

    Posted by acehmgee November 9, 09 12:49 PM
  1. My husband does this and tells me he's not aware of it. It's usually because he's bored and needs some sort of tactile stimulation (so I rub his hair instead, for instance). I agree with Barbara -- something is leading her to use a nervous/coping habit. Does she wash her hands regularly? If so, I would be less concerned about germs. You certainly could ask her to vaccuum the couch/clean up after herself because she's definitely old enough to take that kind of responsibilty, but she is not going to figure out how to stop until she wants to. (I sucked my thumb until I was almost 10 years old and only stopped because I wanted to).

    It's also one thing to do it at home and another thing entirely to do it in public -- but it doesn't sound like this is something she does in school or in public (based on the original post).

    Posted by NervousHabitsDieHard November 9, 09 01:15 PM
  1. As a former nail biter myself, I stopped the horrible habit by getting weekly manicures. After seeing how great my nails looked after a manicure it made me want to stop and I haven't bit them since. Good luck!

    Posted by TSAI November 9, 09 02:10 PM
  1. This is in the OCD spectrum. You can look it up - it's related to other behaviors like trichotillomania.

    Posted by Sarah November 9, 09 02:38 PM
  1. I have had this habit for over fifty years and although I still do it, it is more under control than you describe of your daughter. I have occasionally gotten infections from it, so it can be quite serious. Anxiety that is so self-destructive should not be ignored. I'm not saying she needs therapy, just some alternative, less damaging ways of managing her anxiety. I would avoid calling it "nasty and disgusting" because for kids that sounds like you're calling her nasty and disgusting (not the habit).

    What has worked for me is the weekly manicure, because when my hands look nice, I tend to not want to bite. Also, the manicurist trims the little "tags" of flesh that I tend to latch on and chew on. Find a nice manicurist who understands this and will make the manicure a pleasant relaxing time. Tea tree oil on my cuticles every night - the nasty taste makes me conscious of an unconscious activity, and the tea tree oil also gives some anti-bacterial protection and soothes sore cuticles. I occasionally backslide and will bite until bloody, but it's not often and the manicure/tea tree oil routine gets be back on track quickly enough.

    Posted by Nancy G November 9, 09 02:52 PM
  1. I don't know that you can do anything to change the behavior if she doesn't want to...and frankly, it may not be an issue of want. Bad habits are much more unconscious than that. I'm a cuticle picker so things like the No Bite solution don't work. The best idea I've seen here is the idea to offer her a manicure as a reward. Having polished nails and smooth cuticles is the only thing that deters me from picking. At the moment, I'm actually too embarrassed to go the nail salon even though I know it's the only solution for me. My habit is entirely stress based.

    Posted by Dee November 9, 09 03:19 PM
  1. Dr. Bloom's Chewable Jewels would be a great substitution. They were invented by dentist! I bought mine at www.target.com

    Posted by Carol November 9, 09 04:10 PM
  1. I have always bitten my cuticle area. I have tried to stop doing it, but it is almost habit now. It might help to treat your daughter to getting her nails done, this might be an incentive to her to keep her nails and cuticles looking nice for a while. As far as the germ fears go, I would just encourage her to wash her hands more and I would definetly buy her some nice hand lotions to help stop dry skin. My worst time of year for biting is when my skin is dry and hang nails are more common.

    Posted by cbates November 9, 09 04:33 PM
  1. I did it in stages. At 16 I painted one pinky nail, and allowed it to grow nicely. Then it became obvious to me, suddenly, that the nails were better unbitten, and the nail biting just stopped. However, 30 years later, I still pick at my cuticles. I try to keep this in check with cuticle snippers. It's much better to cut off ragged edges than to pick them.

    Posted by Amy November 9, 09 09:18 PM
  1. "Tell her about someone you knew as a teen who was teased by peers because of his nervous habit."

    I completely disagree with this. It seems like threatening a 14 year old that she'll get teased, which will likely make her more anxious. I've never been a nail biter but I have a nervous habit of picking my cuticles. Knowing people noticed or the fear of being teased never would have made me stop and would have made me more nervous and more likely to pick. My solution was to keep my hands busy. I noticed that even though I wanted to stop, I was often doing it without realizing. Any time I was sitting still, I made sure I had something to do with my hands, whether it was writing, drawing or making small origami. She's going to have to want to stop though because no amount of nasty tasting brush-on products or manicures are going to stop her if she's not ready to.

    Posted by wavebing November 9, 09 10:46 PM
  1. Our 4-1/2 year old was gnawing her fingers and toes so badly that the tips were shredded and peeling and cuticles were red and swollen.

    Suddenly she got an infection, a grayish yellow nasty swelling on her big toe. I opened it with a sterile blade and applied anti-bacterial and the pain was gone it a day--but it actually scared (or shocked) her into not biting at all for a while.

    Now, we catch her biting her nails again after a respite, but not gnawing the skin and cuticles anymore at least.

    Not sure what caused it other than maybe stress or depression? Or why she could quit suddenly but is now slipping again.

    Posted by Chris November 9, 09 10:57 PM
  1. There's a risk of blood poisoning from infection- this is really something that needs to be (gently) dealt with-- using stress reduction techniques, possibly medication for anxiety/ocd/add whatever the issue is (it's probably dopamine related), and a conscious effort to create peace at home and in her school life. I've found that the "Hungry Angry Lonely Tired?" check that people in AA do works well for cuticle pickers- the impulse is often one of those feelings. Good luck. Some people do this their whole lives; it'd be great to pin down a way to ease her tension.

    Posted by Sarah November 10, 09 06:23 AM
  1. It's true that nail-biting is not pretty but if given a choice between cutting oneself or picking at scabs, I'd take nail biting. I have done it to relax and calm myself for 30 years to varying degrees, and my 14 year old does also. To help her manage it so it doesn't get really pronounced, I offered her "fidget" items to use while watching tv like silly putty to stretch or anything rubber she can pull apart. School supply stores have loads of items like these for this purpose. It is a habit that reveals stress and the BEST advice is for her to work some pretty strenuous exercise into her weekly routine to help her feel generally more calm. That has worked well for both of us. I bet she is self-conscious and shy in general? Pervasive anxiety can be treated well with mild drugs (which I did take in high school) that make you feel a world of difference with respect to anxiety. A good child psychologist can help if you think your daughter has pervasive anxiety that affects all aspects of life-home and school. Otherwise try a good vitamin (the B's help the nervous system) and exercise along with fidget items. She'll be happy you are thinking about her state of mind, not just the state of her nails.

    Posted by kemp67 November 10, 09 07:39 AM
  1. I knew a kid in grade school who did this. He was also a bully. I wished he chewed his fingers right off. I would sit in class staring at him while he indulged in this vulgar ritual. He was disgusting.

    Posted by Joe A.K.A Grasshopa November 10, 09 08:05 AM
  1. As a mom to a two and a half-year-old, I'm thinking of assigning responsibility, rewarding positive behaviors, and ignoring negative behaviors. If she's going to cover the dark couch with bits of nail and skin, put a dust buster within reach and make her responsible for cleaning up the mess daily. Offer her regular manicures IF SHE WANTS THEM whether she keeps chewing or not. And then stop talking about it. It's HER struggle, and it will be part of her growth and maturity to see whether she notices other 'chewers', whether she feels it's something she needs to stop for personal or social reasons. All you can do is stand next to her and provide support when she's ready for it.

    Posted by matthew'smom November 10, 09 08:06 AM
  1. I just have to add - I've never been particularly nervous or depressed. I am just a chewer. I chew pens, coffee stirrers, straws, and my own fingers when nothing else is available. I don't even notice I am doing it. But I'm not an unhappy person. Well, unless people keep ragging on me about biting my nails...

    Posted by BMS November 10, 09 08:09 AM
  1. My Nephew who was 13 at the time would bite his nail constantly, so I challenged him to stop biting his nails for 6 months and at the end of the 6 months I would give him $50.00. I am happy to say that I lost and he broke the habit.

    Posted by Princess November 10, 09 09:19 AM
  1. i have been a cuticle picker for as long as i can remember. when i was younger, i was very good at picking-in-private. as i have gotten older, i have realized that i really don't care who sees me & what they will think once i am figured out.

    having said that, as i have matured (i am now 32), i treat myself to manis & pedis which definitely help to keep the raw torn cuticles under control. i will say that i agree with needing to find a nail tech that is understanding about this. a nail tech once told me that i could contract hepatitis from my habit...i never went back to her.

    one day i decided to wiki-search cuticle picking. when i discovered this is a form of ocd & not just some weird habit i have formed, i realized that is is mind over matter & i can beat this thing.

    since then, i still pick occasionally but not like i did when i was younger. after reading this strand, i have gotten a few tips that i think will help to curb it even more (hungry angry lonely tired are absolutely the contributing factors for me)

    my 15 year old niece is a picker also, i am hoping she reads this as well!


    Posted by fazzer November 10, 09 09:28 AM
  1. Thanks Sarah - you read my mind. This is a habit that could be grouped in with pulling out hair/eyelashes/eyebrows or cutting. Now, CLEARLY that would be to the extreme. But I do think it's worth exploring what is making a child compulsively hurt herself.
    Hopefully it's just a nasty habit she will grow out of!

    Posted by Fram November 17, 09 06:08 PM
  1. Silly Putty is working for me so far (not a pick for two weeks). But I really wanted to quit. I keep some at my desk, in my car, near the couch, in my pocket.

    Before Silly Putty, I tried liquid bandage, cuticle cream, tape, gloves, thimbles, etc. but none of it helped for any length of time.

    Like most of the other posts it is stress related along with being tired. I am hoping if I can go long enough without picking I can break the habit and do away with the putty. I was a nail-bitter as a teen but braces broke that habit.

    Posted by Silly Putty Cure December 14, 09 01:13 PM
 
33 comments so far...
  1. Good luck. I'm 38 and my nails are always chewed to the bone, and my cuticles are always a ragged mess. I've always been a nail biter - as long as I can remember. I figure I haven't died yet. I don't smoke, gamble, or drink to excess. I can have one vice.

    If it is something that is bothering her, definitely get to the bottom of the problem. But no amount of nagging can make a dedicated nail biter change if they don't want to. My mom still tries from time to time - never has worked.

    Posted by BMS November 9, 09 07:57 AM
  1. We've had some success transferring the chewing habit to a teething necklace. Smartmom teething bling has some nice ones of food-grade silicon - no BPA. Still chewing, just less gross. And the nails are still chewed time to time, just not completely to the quick. It's hard.

    Posted by Lizzie November 9, 09 09:13 AM
  1. Unless she wants to stop - she won't. I did the same thing when I was her age and finally realized how disgusting it is so I stopped. It's not the easiest thing to stop, but hardly an insurmountable habit to break.

    Posted by Dad November 9, 09 09:35 AM
  1. My fifteen year old daughter did the same thing. I had the same concerns with Swine Flu and germs in general as well as how gross it was.

    I took her for a manicure and agreed that any week she made it through without biting and chewing that I would take her for another one.

    We are four weeks in and I can actually see white on the tips of her nails. The manicurist trims all of the peeling cuticles so there is little left to chew on.

    Good Luck.

    Posted by Sarah November 9, 09 09:52 AM
  1. Truly one of the grossest habits in the world. A biter sat next to me on the T the other day and I had to move my seat. I thought I was going to lose my breakfast!

    I agree, though, that something is going on for her to start this up at her age. Good advice, Barbara! And hopefully some peer pressure will make her stop the biting. Best wishes!

    Posted by just_cos November 9, 09 09:53 AM
  1. I was a picker too - and still am although to a much lesser extent. Here's what never worked for my parents:
    1. Putting me in therapy. It made me feel broken just because I idly picked and led to me lashing out.
    2. Yelling.

    It's just the way I've been since I can remember. We all have nervous habits like fiddling with jewelry, tugging our ears, rubbing our faces. I know some people who are surreptitious sniffers - that is, when they're nervous or stressed they smell their hands (discreetly) as a source of comfort.

    Get to the bottom of her habit since this is obviously not something she's done all her life...but be gentle when doing so.

    Posted by phe November 9, 09 10:11 AM
  1. I have been a nail biter for as long as I can remember (I'm 26 now)- its a nasty habit and the ONLY thing that has worked is a product you can buy at the drug store (and maybe online) called "bite it" with a red line going through it (like no a "no smoking" sign). I brush it on my nails and my cuticles once a day- it tastes awful. Also, offer to buy her manicure after using the "bite it" stuff for about a week. This is the only thing that has ever worked for me...some people just have a nervous habit. Also- dont stop burshing it on until the nail biting has stopped for at least a couple months.

    Posted by L123 November 9, 09 10:46 AM
  1. I started biting in 1st grade--I remember my mother trying to get to the bottom of it, asking my why I started doing it, what was bothering me, but to be honest, I really had no idea what was behind it.

    What really helped me was seeing a few pictures of myself in the background of photos where I had my hand in my mouth. I remember thinking, is this really how I am presenting myself?! It took a long time, but once I decided I wanted to stop, I did.

    There are still days when I am incredibly stressed that I will find myself biting my nails, but it is not nearly as frequent.

    Good luck, try to be patient-- I know how frustrating this was for my mother!

    Posted by Olo November 9, 09 11:10 AM
  1. There's nothing you can do to stop her. Making a big deal about it only makes it worse. It's a stress habit -- one that I've struggled with for as long as I can remember (I'm 26) and many of my friends struggle with it, too. My sibs don't bite or claw at their cuticles, so I'm not sure where I picked it up. You can always tell how much stress is currently in my life by taking one look at my hands, especially my thumbs, which bear the brunt of it.

    The "bite it" stuff doesn't work if you wash your hands regularly or are willing to put up with the bad taste. Manicures don't stop it, just make my fingernails hurt from the buffing after the polish comes off. I can't bear to have any white showing at the top of my fingernails. I've managed to corral the biting when I realized that I started doing it as a nervous habit, but that it would continue because I became obsessed with making it "fixed" (smooth skin again) and would keep biting at it. Now I keep nail/cuticle clippers, as well as emery boards, everywhere (my purse, my desk, my car, my bedside) to head it off. It helps, but that habit never goes away (I also mangle my thumbs in my sleep with my other fingers - short of wearing gloves to bed, which I can't stand, there's nothing I can do about it).

    Posted by Anne November 9, 09 11:22 AM
  1. I'm a nail biter myself, and so is my daughter. The only thing I can think of is maybe letting her chew gum all the time. Chewing is a soothing mechanism and I doubt her brain would care what she's chewing.

    The problem is, I know from being around horses -- once a habit like this starts, even if you remove the stressor, the habit doesn't go away. :( Humans might be easier, though.

    Posted by Fuzzlizard November 9, 09 11:32 AM
  1. I was a regular biter, and now I have managed to curb it but I am not fully reformed. For me things that trigger me going back to my old ways are stress and boredom and to a lesser extent dry skin. I hate the feel of hangnails or dry skin catching on clothing etc. I started doing my own nails and found if they have a little bit of color I tend not to bit them. As my nails grow back out and they have paint on them it is easier to see how much stuff is trapped under the nail and that is a turn off for me.

    I also have a bizillion files of various sizes, shapes etc in my purse, my desk at work and a few different locations at home so they are always within easy reach so I can immediate file either a rough nail or a bit of dry skin so that I don't feel the need to bite. I have also been a lot more vigilant about wearing gloves and using a hand lotion often (more now that it is for me effectively winter) so that cuts down on the dryness.

    The big thing is your daughter has to want to stop, it kind of is like an addition if she doesn't want to stop you really are not going to be able to stop it.

    Posted by On the mend nail biter November 9, 09 11:39 AM
  1. Stop picking on her and she won't be such a nervous wreck.

    Posted by bosfiddle November 9, 09 11:41 AM
  1. A person in my family in his sixties, is a well known and respected professional at absolutely the top of his field, and he bites his nails and cuticles all the time. They are a mess! I think he has done it all his life. His fingernails are quite deformed. He is a wonderful person, who doesn't seem to have a lot of neuroses and he is calm, kind and generous. So who knows? Doesn't seem to have hurt him physically or professionally.
    But you could tell her that her nails will stop growing correctly and she might regret that later.

    Posted by Hmmm November 9, 09 12:28 PM
  1. I did the same thing for years (although I can't recall why I started). I think if it's going to stop, it'll do so on her time. However, I have to say the manicure idea would have totally worked for me. To a lesser extent, that's how I did stop when I was 18. I simply painted my nails this awesome purple color and decided I liked it too much to ever bite again. And then I stopped. I almost never paint my nails now but they are a nice length with white tips. If she's into getting her nails done, maybe that's worth a shot.

    Posted by acehmgee November 9, 09 12:49 PM
  1. My husband does this and tells me he's not aware of it. It's usually because he's bored and needs some sort of tactile stimulation (so I rub his hair instead, for instance). I agree with Barbara -- something is leading her to use a nervous/coping habit. Does she wash her hands regularly? If so, I would be less concerned about germs. You certainly could ask her to vaccuum the couch/clean up after herself because she's definitely old enough to take that kind of responsibilty, but she is not going to figure out how to stop until she wants to. (I sucked my thumb until I was almost 10 years old and only stopped because I wanted to).

    It's also one thing to do it at home and another thing entirely to do it in public -- but it doesn't sound like this is something she does in school or in public (based on the original post).

    Posted by NervousHabitsDieHard November 9, 09 01:15 PM
  1. As a former nail biter myself, I stopped the horrible habit by getting weekly manicures. After seeing how great my nails looked after a manicure it made me want to stop and I haven't bit them since. Good luck!

    Posted by TSAI November 9, 09 02:10 PM
  1. This is in the OCD spectrum. You can look it up - it's related to other behaviors like trichotillomania.

    Posted by Sarah November 9, 09 02:38 PM
  1. I have had this habit for over fifty years and although I still do it, it is more under control than you describe of your daughter. I have occasionally gotten infections from it, so it can be quite serious. Anxiety that is so self-destructive should not be ignored. I'm not saying she needs therapy, just some alternative, less damaging ways of managing her anxiety. I would avoid calling it "nasty and disgusting" because for kids that sounds like you're calling her nasty and disgusting (not the habit).

    What has worked for me is the weekly manicure, because when my hands look nice, I tend to not want to bite. Also, the manicurist trims the little "tags" of flesh that I tend to latch on and chew on. Find a nice manicurist who understands this and will make the manicure a pleasant relaxing time. Tea tree oil on my cuticles every night - the nasty taste makes me conscious of an unconscious activity, and the tea tree oil also gives some anti-bacterial protection and soothes sore cuticles. I occasionally backslide and will bite until bloody, but it's not often and the manicure/tea tree oil routine gets be back on track quickly enough.

    Posted by Nancy G November 9, 09 02:52 PM
  1. I don't know that you can do anything to change the behavior if she doesn't want to...and frankly, it may not be an issue of want. Bad habits are much more unconscious than that. I'm a cuticle picker so things like the No Bite solution don't work. The best idea I've seen here is the idea to offer her a manicure as a reward. Having polished nails and smooth cuticles is the only thing that deters me from picking. At the moment, I'm actually too embarrassed to go the nail salon even though I know it's the only solution for me. My habit is entirely stress based.

    Posted by Dee November 9, 09 03:19 PM
  1. Dr. Bloom's Chewable Jewels would be a great substitution. They were invented by dentist! I bought mine at www.target.com

    Posted by Carol November 9, 09 04:10 PM
  1. I have always bitten my cuticle area. I have tried to stop doing it, but it is almost habit now. It might help to treat your daughter to getting her nails done, this might be an incentive to her to keep her nails and cuticles looking nice for a while. As far as the germ fears go, I would just encourage her to wash her hands more and I would definetly buy her some nice hand lotions to help stop dry skin. My worst time of year for biting is when my skin is dry and hang nails are more common.

    Posted by cbates November 9, 09 04:33 PM
  1. I did it in stages. At 16 I painted one pinky nail, and allowed it to grow nicely. Then it became obvious to me, suddenly, that the nails were better unbitten, and the nail biting just stopped. However, 30 years later, I still pick at my cuticles. I try to keep this in check with cuticle snippers. It's much better to cut off ragged edges than to pick them.

    Posted by Amy November 9, 09 09:18 PM
  1. "Tell her about someone you knew as a teen who was teased by peers because of his nervous habit."

    I completely disagree with this. It seems like threatening a 14 year old that she'll get teased, which will likely make her more anxious. I've never been a nail biter but I have a nervous habit of picking my cuticles. Knowing people noticed or the fear of being teased never would have made me stop and would have made me more nervous and more likely to pick. My solution was to keep my hands busy. I noticed that even though I wanted to stop, I was often doing it without realizing. Any time I was sitting still, I made sure I had something to do with my hands, whether it was writing, drawing or making small origami. She's going to have to want to stop though because no amount of nasty tasting brush-on products or manicures are going to stop her if she's not ready to.

    Posted by wavebing November 9, 09 10:46 PM
  1. Our 4-1/2 year old was gnawing her fingers and toes so badly that the tips were shredded and peeling and cuticles were red and swollen.

    Suddenly she got an infection, a grayish yellow nasty swelling on her big toe. I opened it with a sterile blade and applied anti-bacterial and the pain was gone it a day--but it actually scared (or shocked) her into not biting at all for a while.

    Now, we catch her biting her nails again after a respite, but not gnawing the skin and cuticles anymore at least.

    Not sure what caused it other than maybe stress or depression? Or why she could quit suddenly but is now slipping again.

    Posted by Chris November 9, 09 10:57 PM
  1. There's a risk of blood poisoning from infection- this is really something that needs to be (gently) dealt with-- using stress reduction techniques, possibly medication for anxiety/ocd/add whatever the issue is (it's probably dopamine related), and a conscious effort to create peace at home and in her school life. I've found that the "Hungry Angry Lonely Tired?" check that people in AA do works well for cuticle pickers- the impulse is often one of those feelings. Good luck. Some people do this their whole lives; it'd be great to pin down a way to ease her tension.

    Posted by Sarah November 10, 09 06:23 AM
  1. It's true that nail-biting is not pretty but if given a choice between cutting oneself or picking at scabs, I'd take nail biting. I have done it to relax and calm myself for 30 years to varying degrees, and my 14 year old does also. To help her manage it so it doesn't get really pronounced, I offered her "fidget" items to use while watching tv like silly putty to stretch or anything rubber she can pull apart. School supply stores have loads of items like these for this purpose. It is a habit that reveals stress and the BEST advice is for her to work some pretty strenuous exercise into her weekly routine to help her feel generally more calm. That has worked well for both of us. I bet she is self-conscious and shy in general? Pervasive anxiety can be treated well with mild drugs (which I did take in high school) that make you feel a world of difference with respect to anxiety. A good child psychologist can help if you think your daughter has pervasive anxiety that affects all aspects of life-home and school. Otherwise try a good vitamin (the B's help the nervous system) and exercise along with fidget items. She'll be happy you are thinking about her state of mind, not just the state of her nails.

    Posted by kemp67 November 10, 09 07:39 AM
  1. I knew a kid in grade school who did this. He was also a bully. I wished he chewed his fingers right off. I would sit in class staring at him while he indulged in this vulgar ritual. He was disgusting.

    Posted by Joe A.K.A Grasshopa November 10, 09 08:05 AM
  1. As a mom to a two and a half-year-old, I'm thinking of assigning responsibility, rewarding positive behaviors, and ignoring negative behaviors. If she's going to cover the dark couch with bits of nail and skin, put a dust buster within reach and make her responsible for cleaning up the mess daily. Offer her regular manicures IF SHE WANTS THEM whether she keeps chewing or not. And then stop talking about it. It's HER struggle, and it will be part of her growth and maturity to see whether she notices other 'chewers', whether she feels it's something she needs to stop for personal or social reasons. All you can do is stand next to her and provide support when she's ready for it.

    Posted by matthew'smom November 10, 09 08:06 AM
  1. I just have to add - I've never been particularly nervous or depressed. I am just a chewer. I chew pens, coffee stirrers, straws, and my own fingers when nothing else is available. I don't even notice I am doing it. But I'm not an unhappy person. Well, unless people keep ragging on me about biting my nails...

    Posted by BMS November 10, 09 08:09 AM
  1. My Nephew who was 13 at the time would bite his nail constantly, so I challenged him to stop biting his nails for 6 months and at the end of the 6 months I would give him $50.00. I am happy to say that I lost and he broke the habit.

    Posted by Princess November 10, 09 09:19 AM
  1. i have been a cuticle picker for as long as i can remember. when i was younger, i was very good at picking-in-private. as i have gotten older, i have realized that i really don't care who sees me & what they will think once i am figured out.

    having said that, as i have matured (i am now 32), i treat myself to manis & pedis which definitely help to keep the raw torn cuticles under control. i will say that i agree with needing to find a nail tech that is understanding about this. a nail tech once told me that i could contract hepatitis from my habit...i never went back to her.

    one day i decided to wiki-search cuticle picking. when i discovered this is a form of ocd & not just some weird habit i have formed, i realized that is is mind over matter & i can beat this thing.

    since then, i still pick occasionally but not like i did when i was younger. after reading this strand, i have gotten a few tips that i think will help to curb it even more (hungry angry lonely tired are absolutely the contributing factors for me)

    my 15 year old niece is a picker also, i am hoping she reads this as well!


    Posted by fazzer November 10, 09 09:28 AM
  1. Thanks Sarah - you read my mind. This is a habit that could be grouped in with pulling out hair/eyelashes/eyebrows or cutting. Now, CLEARLY that would be to the extreme. But I do think it's worth exploring what is making a child compulsively hurt herself.
    Hopefully it's just a nasty habit she will grow out of!

    Posted by Fram November 17, 09 06:08 PM
  1. Silly Putty is working for me so far (not a pick for two weeks). But I really wanted to quit. I keep some at my desk, in my car, near the couch, in my pocket.

    Before Silly Putty, I tried liquid bandage, cuticle cream, tape, gloves, thimbles, etc. but none of it helped for any length of time.

    Like most of the other posts it is stress related along with being tired. I am hoping if I can go long enough without picking I can break the habit and do away with the putty. I was a nail-bitter as a teen but braces broke that habit.

    Posted by Silly Putty Cure December 14, 09 01:13 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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