I did a little research and here are a few facts that I unearthed about nail biters:
- About 30%-60% of children and teens chew their fingernails (with the occasional toenail biters).
- As they get older, boys are more likely to be nail biters than girls.
- Nail biting is the most common "nervous" habit.
- Boredom From what I've witnessed, Owen usually bites his nails while he is watching television, So although it may appear as though he's not bored, (because he's enjoying his movie), maybe he is biting his nails to keep his hands occupied? Personally, I always feel as though I need my hands to be doing something else while watching TV, so I suppose this could be a possibility.
- Anxiety Owen doesn't appear to be an anxious child. He certainly doesn't show any of the typical symptoms of anxiety. However, I did learn that children are more likely to develop anxiety if their mother has a history of anxiety or depression (Source). Something to think about.
- Self-comfort Nail biting can be a way for a child to comfort him or herself, or something that they do while in a relaxed state, (such as trying to fall asleep). I'm going to skip over this one as I don't think that it applies to Owen.
- Monkey see, monkey do As far as I know, Daddio does not bite his nails, unless he has a hangnail. I do not bite my nails either. No, wait. That might not be entirely accurate. Sometimes while I am thinking, (as I am right now), or bored, I will fidget with my thumbnail with my teeth, sort of nibble on it, I suppose? I'm not actually biting the nail off, but it may appear that I am. Hmmm.....
- Parental manipulation/ feeling neglected It is possible that Owen is biting his nails to get a reaction out of us. Up until now, we have been getting angry with him every time that we have caught him biting his nails, and especially when he bites his toenails. So I'm wondering if he could be doing it for the attention?
I'm not entirely sure which one of these causes applies to Owen, although I'm starting to suspect that it may be a combination of several of these factors. The question that Daddio and I were asking ourselves last night was how to deal with this. Here are some suggested methods:
- Don't nag or punish Yeah, okay we are 100% guilty on this one. Daddio has often threatened to put Owen in Time Out if he sees him biting his nails again, and I am constantly nagging him to stop biting them. Guilty as charged.
- Point out why you don't like this behavior I have done this in the past. I have told Owen that our fingernails, (and especially toenails) have a lot of dirt and germs in them and by biting them, he is getting those germs in his body and they could make them sick. We have also told him that he could end up hurting his fingers, and they might get infected (I am aware that he doesn't really understand what that means).
- Distract him with alternative behaviors I tried to do this this morning. I walked into the living room and Owen was chewing on his nails, so instead of drawing attention to that, I asked him if he could make certain letters with his hands/fingers. It seemed to work at the time, but as soon as he finished, the fingers went back into the mouth.
- Praise self-control and reward good behavior Haven't had the opportunity to do this one yet. But something to think about.
So after reading all of this, I've decided to change the way that I am reacting to this habit of his. I am not going to draw attention to it, and certainly not react negatively or punish him for it. I have also realized that the time that he does this the most is during "quiet time", while he is watching a movie. Ben is usually taking a nap at this time which gives me the opportunity to get things done around the house that I usually cannot while Ben is awake (make phone calls, clean, prepare dinner, etc.). So maybe the problem here is that Owen is feeling neglected by me? When Ben is awake, the boys are usually playing together, either upstairs in their rooms, or downstairs. So it's possible that Owen is feeling as though he is not getting any one-on-one time with me, which is true. He isn't. So I think that I'm going to start doing more things with him while Ben is sleeping, rather than let him spend all of his "quiet time" on the couch watching television.
I'm hoping to be able to get Daddio on board with these changes too. I asked him to read a few things about it and I have suggested a few ways as to how we should be dealing with it. We'll see how it goes.
- "Nail biting: Why it happens and what to do about it" from Baby Center (www.babycenter.com)
- "Your Child's Habits" from Kids Health (kidshealth.org)