How to Stop Biting Your Nails

how to help kids stop biting nails

Yum! Fingernails for breakfast!” – said no one ever. But…why do so many people nibble on their nails? And how do you stop biting your nails? This habit can be tough for kids to break.

Actually, a lot of grownups have trouble quitting the nail-biting habit, too.

How many people bite their nails?

Fingernail biting is pretty common. Around 20% of people of all ages bite their fingernails.

Toenail biting is less common, but it’s a habit for some kids.

Why it’s hard for kids to stop biting their nails

A nail-biting habit usually starts when kids are young. Many people don’t even realize they are gnawing on their nails because it’s become a subconscious habit.

There’s usually some sort of trigger that leads to the nail-biting activity, and the nail-biting activity feels like a reward.

Nail Biting Habit Loop

Nail-biting triggers

For many kids, nail-biting starts from being bored. Sometimes they notice that the white part of their nails are getting longer.

For other kids, nail-biting is a way to get rid of stress. It can happen when someone is feeling hungry, frustrated, or nervous.

Why biting your nails can feel good

  • If you bite your nails out of boredom, it gives you something to do.
  • If you notice your nails are long, nibbling makes them shorter.
  • If stress is the cause, nail biting might take away some of the tension.

Good reasons to stop biting your nails

Why is giving up nail-biting a good idea? Here are 3 important reasons to stop biting your nails.

Your nails are germy

long dirty fingernails

Germs might be invisible, but they live under your nails. When you bite your nails, you’re basically eating germs.

Your nails can get infected

infected skin around fingernail

Your mouth is super germy, too! The skin around your nails can get irritated, red, ripped, and infected by bacteria from your mouth.

Your teeth can have problems

child with crooked teeth and dents from chronic nail biting

Constant nail biting could wear down your teeth and make them crooked. That’s because your teeth are meant to chew food and take breaks between snacks and meals.

How to stop biting your nails

Quitting can be hard, but you can stop the cycle with some help. Here are some ways to break the nail-biting habit loop.

Notice triggers

child looking in the mirror when feeling the urge to bite nails

Notice when and why you might be biting your nails. How do you feel? Brainstorming can help you figure out your nail-biting triggers.

Trim nails

dad trimming child's nails with clipper

Keep your nails short so there’s nothing to bite. Have your nails trimmed every week. If you’re not able to trim your nails, ask a grown-up to help!

Keep hands busy

fidget toys can help stop kids from biting nails

Keep your hands busy with fidget toys and other relaxing activities. Pop Its, fidget spinners, play dough, and silly putty could help stop the urge to bite your nails.

Use nail polish

child painting nails to stop nail-biting

Get a manicure! Polish is not something you want to eat. Some kids are able to stop biting their nails by painting on bitter or spicy nail polish.

How to Stop Biting Nails Habit Loop

Stop biting your nails in 3 steps

In summary, here are the key steps to keep in mind:

STEP 1: Notice your triggers.


  • Make it hard to bite your nails. Trim your nails so that there’s nothing to bite. Covering your nails with polish can also help get in the way of the habit you’re trying to break.
  • Replace with a new activity. Have fun with different fidget toys.

STEP 3: Enjoy your new rewards! Your nails will look better, your body will be healthier, and you will have better coping strategies for boredom and stress.

Can you think of other ways to keep your nails healthy and safe?

Your doctor can also help you brainstorm more ways to stop a nail-biting habit.

More healthy habits to learn today

Updated on July 25, 2023 by Betty Choi, MD

Updated on July 25, 2023

by Betty Choi, MD