Friday, January 20, 2017

How to help my child stop biting his or her nails

Nail-biting is a “nervous habit”, like thumb-sucking, hair twisting or nose-picking. If your child is over 3 years old, then this nibbling is a symptom of an underlying anxiety. Your child is doing this for self-soothing purposes. Then, if you just “make” your child stop, he or she will replace this nail-biting with some other “self-calming habit” (namely eating or putting things in his or her mouth just like a baby). The real solution relies on reconnecting with your child to help him or her “drain” the anxiety while you identify and address the real cause behind it.  

I really like the approach from Joshua Sparrow MD, a renowned Child Psychiatrist. Hear it from the source:

If you want to help your child stop biting his or her nails please don’t expect results overnight. If your child’s “nervous habit” is bothering you and making you nervous, keep in mind your child is not doing this voluntarily. Anything you might say to make him or her stop will just hurt your child’s self-confidence and generate even more anxiety.

There is a Two-Steps Solution to deal with “Nervous habits” in children I always recommend because I have seen really impressive results:

Step 1: Learning to deal with anxiety
     Connect with your child. Play with him or her 20 minutes a day, without your phone, TV, iPad, Tablet or any other distraction. Just observe. Can you tell what specific activities help your child "calm down"? Is it riding a bike, swimming, playing ball or is it painting, or singing? Take all the time you need to find this out.
     Invite your child. Don’t nag. Once you have identified what type of activities help your child “drain” the anxiety, invite him or her to do that together every time you catch your child nibbling. Ask him or her to sing, paint or play with you, without making any reference to the “nail-biting”.
     Make it a wonderful time for your child. Let your child put the rules, let your child win. Make some mistakes on your own while you are playing. Don’t be critical.     
     Show gratitude to your child. When you have played like this for at least 20 minutes, just say: -“Thank you for playing with me. I feel relaxed now”-.

     Step 2: Go straight to the root cause
Is there any major change around? Is everyone relaxed at home?
Is your child happy at school? Is he or she afraid of something? 
We went through this a while ago: 
     Observing and understanding: Hope (4-year-old) was nibbling. I noticed she was super enthusiastic about her Pre-K and then, all of a sudden, she just didn’t want to be there. One day, without her knowing, I stayed at her Pre-K. I just observed the group dynamics: I noticed a girl took a toy away from her. My daughter only looked down and did not say a word.

     Validation: that night, I asked Hope: -“Would you like me to show you some ways to defend yourself from other kids so that no one takes your toys away without saying “please”?”-. Can you guess which was the answer?: A wonderfully beaming little face I will never forget. 

     Crack-it together. Give your child options to solve the problem, what I like to call “resources”. I am referring to mainly alternative responses for your child to choose the one he or she feels comfortable with. For example, I shared with Hope these ideas and she chose to try both (b) and (c):

a) Stick Up for your rights: -"Don’t let anyone take anything away from you. Speak loud and clear"-. We used some role playing and switched for her to practice some lines and moves at home.

b) Be a role model: meaning to show the others how she deserves to be treated being respectful, honest and persuasive: -“If you take my toy away from me without my consent, I will tell my mom and she will tell your mom tonight. It is up to you to choose”.-

c) Ask for help: -“Tell the teacher as soon as it happens and point your finger if you need to. If your teacher does not do anything about it, you let me know and I will take care of it”-. Some teachers just don’t get involved, if this is your case, let your child hear you when you talk with the other kid’s parents. 

If you repeat this Two-Steps approach every day, if you make a part of your life, you’ll notice this nail-biting habit will go away progressively. Give it a try and let me know how it worked for you. 

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