In Part I of this two-parter are common tactics parents use on four year old and other young nail biters that typically fail big-time. Here are three approaches that have a better chance of yielding favorable results.
The Part 1 article pointed out how important it is for parents to get feedback from the four-year-old nail biter.
But the problem is quite vexing if the four year old is not yet talking – meaning, able to express their feelings and answer simple open-ended questions about their nail biting habit.
Physical Removal of Fingers from Mouth
Every time you see your child’s fingers in their mouth, gently remove them while firmly saying “No.” Your four year old already knows what “No” means.
If you pair “No” with removing their fingers from their mouth, they’ll know what you’re referring to. In fact, you may not even have to say the “No.”
You may feel this approach is useless due to not being able to watch them every second. However, catching them 100 percent of the time IS NOT NECESSARY.
You need only catch them ENOUGH times to be effective while in your presence. Think of it as a “variable ratio” rate of catching them in the act.
Children as young as two can easily learn to avoid an undesirable behavior while in the presence of the reinforcing adult. I proved this myself when my niece was 15 months.
With just hand signals, I taught her not to loudly shriek when I was around. However, I did not catch her in the act 100 percent of the time, yet the reinforcement worked.
If most of the time when your child is chewing his nails you remove (gently but firmly) his hand from his mouth with a “No,” chances are exceedingly high that he will very soon cease biting his nails in your presence.
This means at church, at the store, in the doctor’s office, at someone else’s house and of course, in the same room with him at home. The key is that you’re in the room with your child.
You must be committed to this (but again, a 100 percent catch rate is not necessary). So for instance, if your child’s fingers go to her mouth whenever she meets a new person, remove the fingers. Just nonchalantly remove. Do not verbally shame her. If the fingers go back to the mouth, remove. Stick to your guns.
Though this approach won’t shine at stopping them from nail biting once they’re alone or away from you, at least they won’t be biting when you’re with them.
This can mean a lot to other family members who find the habit “gross,” or “disgusting,” as well as to the new person they’re meeting.
And here’s a thought: It’s not impossible that, over time, this approach may carry over to when you’re not present. It very likely won’t, but we can’t rule it out.
Ban Nail Biting at Specified Locations
Babycenter.com recommends prohibiting the habit during specific situations such as during mealtimes and while watching TV. This is actually a scaled-down version of the previous recommendation.
Specific locations can be a launching pad for a ban whenever you’re in sight.
Non-Verbal and Non-Physical Signals
Babycenter.com also suggests voiceless signals that your child knows means fingers out of the mouth.
Come up with a signal or gesture that’s discreet and that the four year old will not confuse with some other body language or hand signal.
If you have a non-talking four year old with a nail biting habit, don’t give up like my nephew’s parents have.
I think they believe their four year old—who still cannot talk meaningfully, let alone express his wants or feelings—will outgrow this behavior.
They’ve tried the bitter tasting solutions that you paint on. Their son chewed right through it. My sister-in-law claims she’s tried everything. I have reason to doubt this, because the four year old bites his nails all the time – smack in her presence and in my brother’s presence, including at mealtimes. They do nothing.
What can they do? Well, a good start is to calmly remove his fingers from his mouth. Again, this need not be a 100 percent catch rate to be effective. And the four year old does not need to be able to talk to make the connection between the hand removal and his nail biting.