How to Stop Biting Your 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? A nail-biting habit can be tough for kids to break. Grown-ups have trouble quitting, too.

how to help kids stop biting nails

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 is it hard for kids to stop biting their nails?

A nail-biting habit usually starts when kids are young.

Many people don’t realize they are gnawing on their nails because it’s become a subconscious habit.

Usually, some trigger leads to the nail-biting activity. Then, the act of nail-biting 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 is 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 nail-biting can be tempting for kids

  • 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? The nails are protective parts of the human body.

Here are three 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 eating germs.

Your nails can get infected.

nail biting can cause 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 habit

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 can you stop a nail-biting habit?

Quitting can be hard, but you can stop the cycle with help. The key is to develop mindfulness about how you feel and what you’re doing. 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 can prevent nail-biting habit

Keep your nails short so there’s nothing to bite. Have your nails trimmed every week. If you cannot 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 habit

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

Stop biting your nails in 3 steps

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

How to Stop Biting Nails Habit Loop

STEP 1: Notice what triggers you to bite your nails.


  • 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.
  • Get a new hobby. Keep your hands busy. Have fun with different fidget toys.

STEP 3: Enjoy your new nails! 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 ways to stop a nail-biting habit.

More healthy habits to learn today

Human Body Learning has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on information from peer-reviewed research studies, academic institutions, and medical associations.

Published on August 19, 2021. Updated on January 18, 2024 by Betty Choi, MD

Published on August 19, 2021. Updated on January 18, 2024 by Betty Choi, MD

Dr. Betty Choi pediatrician

Betty Choi, MD

Dr. Betty Choi is a Harvard-trained pediatrician who makes learning fun and doable. She created the kids’ anatomy book Human Body Learning Lab, which Science Magazine recommended as a “notable standout in the genre.”