Many people start biting their nails in childhood and it becomes a hard habit to break! Reward and punishment, persuasion and coercion, nasty tasting substances painted on to the nails....admonishing, ignoring .... the truth is, for nail-biting adults or children very few of these methods work. Best advice is to go to the underlying cause: the nervous system.
People who bite their nails are worriers, and can become easily tense and anxious. The gesture of putting their fingers to their mouth goes right back to early childhood when a small child sometimes finds comfort and self-soothing from having their fingers, or their milk bottle, or their mother's breast, and/or their pacifier or soother in their mouth. There is a reason why these are called 'soothers' (UK & Ireland) or 'pacifiers' as this is exactly the effect of this comfort. Actually starting to bite or pull at the nails or skin around the nails is a form of mild self-harming. The feeling beneath this action needs to be addressed. A nail-biter needs to relax, feel happy with themselves and be preoccupied with other forms of habit that are self-soothing and comforting...habits which offer tenderness and peaceful love to their more sensitive selves.
There can be consequences to this habit. People who do not wash their hands regularly and then place their fingers to their mouth, can collect germs and bacteria that otherwise would not be transferred to the mouth and gums. Otherwise, it may just look unsightly and be off-putting to others as well as openly revealing one's anxiety, which can lead to increased self-consciousness and even more nail-biting.
For those keen to diminish the habit in themselves and others, here are some tips:
- Feed the nerves. You can helpfully supplement someone's over stretched nerves. Try a Magnesium supplement on a daily basis. Use the Schuessler Cell salt: Kali-phos 6x. This particular one is very safe for children on a more medium-term basis as it is gentle and easy and enjoyable for children to take. Take a complex B-Vitamin supplement on a daily basis which helps resilience to stress and tension.
- Try some Bach Flowers for personality traits which you feel are contributing to this problem. Here are some examples: Mimulus for shyness and fear. Larch for self-confidence. Pine for guilt feelings and self-reproach. Aspen for an unidentifiable free-floating anxiety. Agrimony for suppressed feelings or attempts to run away from feelings that one cannot cope with.
Here are two homeopathic remedies which you may try. Try to find a good 'fit' or 'match' between the remedy description and how the child or person is. This will get you a better result.
- Nat-mur. These types of children will be quite 'good' and compliant. They are reserved and embarassed by displays of emotion or affection. They can have deeper friendships but with fewer people as they give very wholeheartedly of themselves in a deep way rather than superficially in a broad way. They often need plenty of personal space, and retreat to their rooms and their own inner world of imagination. They are easily offended and can dwell on these offences. They find it hard to forgive insults and reproaches , usually because they are so deeply affected and wounded by them. They tend to be hard on themselves and critical..always asking of themselves conscientiously 'Did I do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing?' They worry about how other people feel and reach out caringly and sympathetically to them..they do this because their own deep nature means they understand exactly how another person can be affected by feeling bad. Nat-mur types grow up to be the one whom everyone turns to for advice and are often to be found in the caring professions. They have body image problems and can feel 'ugly'. They love the sea, and crave crisps and salty things. They bite their nails.
- Suphur. These types of children will be free, easy-going laid-back, intensely curious and lovingly playful. They have a good sense of humour. They like to boast and brag! They suck up all the attention in a room or at a party but nobody minds this as they are fascinating and adorable. They are usually intelligent and inventive and like to know how things work, and figure things out. they may know alot about many different subjects and ask alot of questions. Sometimes this type is like a talented 'geek' or 'nerd'. Later on in life, these adults are pioneering, original creative and clever, witty and often successful from their sheer charm and large personality. However, these types are vulnerable to feeling scorned and 'put-down', to feeling 'poor' and 'looked down upon'. They have a self-consciousness about their bodies which can occasionally amount to disgust and feeling repelled. Sulphur types can respond to this by either being fastidious and overly clean OR letting themselves go. Sulphur types can suffer from body odour and smelly feet which repel others! Or they simply do not pay attention to small details like bathing and grooming because their minds are preoccupied with much more important ideas and tasks. When they are soaring high on the world of ideas they become oblivious to themselves, when they come back to earth they can feel self-conscious in their bodies. This can be a great remedy for a nail-biting teenager. Sulphur types love sweet things, pastries, pasta, and wine and beer. They have tremendous appetites for food and for life and can occasionally be downright greedy!
There are several other homeopathic remedies which are commonly used for this complaint. But these particular remedies are better being prescribed by a professional homeopath as they cover many other aspects of health in conjunction with nail-biting. Consider taking your nail-biting child to a homeopath for problem-solving and gentle help.
Nail-biting can reveal an inner discomfort with oneself and and anxiety. Be sensitive to children who do this rather than strict, scolding or impatient. Make them feel safe, loved. Give them things to do which suit their nature and temperament...stimulate them or relax them. But be loving. In the small details of our lives, lie the greatest things. We need to be alert to the aches and pains of others. When someone is driven to eat away at themselves, something is going on.