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DD's teacher needs advice on how to deal with DD's nail/fingerbiting habit - Help please!

52 replies

hippipotami · 21/01/2008 15:48

Please help.

Dd is just 5 and in reception. She has over the years had some anxiety related habits and tics such as headshaking, shoulder shrugging and a period of hairpulling. The GP adviced us to ignore as much as possible. The tics she still has, but the hairpulling has been replaced by picking/biting of her fingernails and the skin surrounding it. She makes her fingers bleed on a daily basis.

Dd's teacher wants to know how to deal with this. She cannot ignore it as dd would bleed all over the books/papers/desks/toys etc. But neither does she want to go all-out 'oh dear, come and have a plaster'.
She has asked dd if anything is worrying her and dd said 'no'. But dd did burst into tears today when another girl snatched a pen. The teacher said dd was disproportionately upset about this.
Now, dd is a bundle of anxieties which we are trying to deal with as much as possible. I think the nailbiting thing is almost done subconciously.
When asked by the teacher why dd bites her nails/skin dd replied 'I don't know' That is the exact same answer we get when we ask her. Followed by a shrug, a pout and a point blank refusal to discuss further.

So, what can we do? The teacher is thinking about implementing an award system, ie a sticker for every day when nails were not bitten. But then she is worried this would draw attention to the problem, and perhaps I want to downplay it so as not to reward dd with attention when she bites/nibbles/

Please please, anyone who has advice, been though something similar with their child, let me know how you dealt with this.

I don't want to turn this into a huge issue, but some coping/dealing strategies would be wonderful as I am feeling a bit at a loss at the moment.

OP posts:
MaryAnnSingleton · 21/01/2008 15:56

bumping this for you Hippi

Blandmum · 21/01/2008 15:58

Squeezy ball, the sort that buisness men have on the dest to relieve stress?

If not that then a ball of blue tac to fiddle with?

Jacanne · 21/01/2008 16:09

I don't know Hippi - have something of the same problem here - dd1 bites her nails down very low, we've also had some clothes chewing incidents. All I know is that it started when she started school and improves over the holidays. I think, with regards to dd1, it's because she has always had excess energy and finds it very hard to sit still - so bites her nails instead.

I have come to the conclusion that starting school can be very stressful, no matter how confident the child. DD1's friend has been picking at a scab in his nose and it has been bleeding on and off for a month.

It is very hard to break a subconcious habit though - with dd1 we did offer presents if she stopped biting her nails but it didn't work and tbh, we tend to ignore it (no blood here though so a bit easier). MIL suggested getting her to stop a bit at a time - so stop with both her little fingers first, then her next 2...etc - to break it down and make it more manageable. It did think of trying bitter aloes - not as a punishment but just to make her conscious that she was doing it but everyone seemed to think that was cruel.

Just lots of hugs and comfort I suppose - I did think about the worry dolls that you can buy - that you confide your worries to before you go to bed. I have also tried telling her things that I am worried about (not big things obviously) but just so she gets the idea that you can talk about such things. I think it is so hard for them to articulate what is bothering them when they're so little.

Sorry for the waffly post - probably no help at all .

MaryAnnSingleton · 21/01/2008 17:10


Littlefish · 21/01/2008 17:13

I agree with MB - I've had some success in the classroom with small balls of blue-tac for those children who need to have something in their hands. Perhaps it's worth trying for your dd.

How lovely that her teacher is trying to work so hard with you on this.

emandjules · 21/01/2008 17:14

we actually found out by accident that having a plaster on one of dd's fingers that she had bitten and made bleed has stopped her biting all fingers.

VanillaPumpkin · 21/01/2008 17:21

Aw, I am sorry to hear this is such an issue for you and your dd.
FWIW I did this a lot as a teenager and still do occasionally as an adult. I am never aware of it until I see my finger is bleeding. It is quite subconscious and I don't seem to have a trigger but I think I am worse in the winter due to dry hands...She probably doesn't realise she is anxious about anything specific, but just feels a bit on edge. You will crack it esp as you have the teacher on side to help. . Good Luck.

CoolYerBoots · 21/01/2008 17:30

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hippipotami · 21/01/2008 17:37

Thanks for the advice. The teacher is indeed fab, she is a newly qualified teacher, young, enthusiastic and utterly wonderful.

I did think about giving dd something to fiddle with. However, the teacher last week asked me to leave dd's bear (her comforter) at home as dd's constant holding of bear was stopping dd taking part in all reception has to offer. For instance, she would not put him down to do writing/drawing/painting etc.
So we would have the same worry with a stress ball thing I'm afraid...

The teacher said she wants to adress the 'root cause' of dd's nibbling habits. Problem is, I don't know what that is! I can only assume it is to do with school, because during the holidays the tics get a lot lot less, but am not sure about the finger thing....

It is just a generalized school anxiety type thing isn't it? Please reassure me that dd does not have any serious mental issues... I am worried about my little girl and my imagination is going a little wild....

By the way, MAS, thanks for bumping

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hippipotami · 21/01/2008 17:41

CoolYerBoots (fab name ) thank you! I must have been typing my las tpost when you posted yours.

I know what you mean, and it is reasuring to hear you can lead a full life with these habits.
I had a skin picking habit, and I know it is impossible to stop. I know what you mean about doing it subconciously, when bored or anxious, and yes, the satisfaction when you get a good bit... I also had a nervous tic when I transferred from primary to secondary school.

I know all this about myself, so why am I not able to offer the teacher constructive advice on how to deal with dd.

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CoolYerBoots · 21/01/2008 17:42

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hippipotami · 21/01/2008 17:45

Thanks CYB

I think I will just have to tell the teacher that this is how dd is.
I don't think actively encouraging dd to stop is going to help. After all, we actively encouraged her to stop biting her nails and she moved onto hair pulling. We actively encouraged her to stop hair pulling and she moved onto skin/nailbed biting.
She obviously needs something to do.

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CoolYerBoots · 21/01/2008 17:50

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Peapodlovescuddles · 21/01/2008 18:35

I know its not ideal but how about actually putting plasters on all her fingers, perhaps nice pink, princessy ones or whatever she's into as a preventative measure?

Maidamess · 21/01/2008 18:41

I do not think your daughter would be as attached to a squigy ball as she would to a teddy, so I think a ball for her to fiddle with is a good option.

I'm a TA in a class with an inherent fiddler (not biting fingers, but unpicking art displays, stitching on bean bags etc)

A small ball of blue tack or a small sqidgey def. helps.

My son is an anxious nail biter. Over Christmas he stopped biting for some reason (I think the school nurse had been in talking about threadworms).

He is now a novice clothes chewer instead. I think I preferred the nail biting!

southeastastra · 21/01/2008 18:45

i pick the skin around my fingers too, it's a nervous habit but strangely enjoyable.

when i was a child, to stop myself biting my nails i used to file them, as they were nice and smooth i left them alone, i know she is only 5 but do you think if you showed her to look after them properly with a file etc that would stop her

CoteDAzur · 21/01/2008 19:00

I used to bite nails as a child and when my parents started using the bitter tasting nail polish thing on my nails I then turned my full attention to picking on the skin around them.

The only thing that stopped me was coveting a slightly older girl's manicured hands and long nails. As long as my hands were manicured less than a week ago and my nails were polished (even with transparent polish), I would not pick.

To this day, leaving my nails without nail polish is flirting with disaster for me.

Try putting nail polish on her nails, is my suggestion. And make sure everybody says they look gorgeous.

CoteDAzur · 21/01/2008 19:06

Also, don't beat yourself up over trying to find the underlying cause. In all likelihood, there isn't any.

I had a picture perfect childhood - parents who love each other (who are still together, btw), no financial problems, no family problems, no bullying, I was first of my class, etc.

Just to give you an example, I stopped smoking three weeks ago with no help from pills or patches. I guess that shows I am not a complete sissy. Yet I can't stop picking at my cuticles, probably because I don't even notice myself doing it.

Wisteria · 21/01/2008 19:16

Same as cool yer boots, in fact you could be me...however I am not as resigned to it as you seem to be.

I still bite mine terribly and hate them at the same time, it's horrid and I wish I'd been made to stop.

I was told recently that it's a form of self harming (albeit on a mucher lower scale) and generally unconscious because it starts at such a young age, they related mine to pain management as I'll bite when the pain is very bad, to take my mind off it.

Take her for a manicure and paint her nails, hopefully she will grow out of it as soon as she sees someone with beautiful nails, as long as you support and help her - I find it harder to give up than smoking believe it or not.

hippipotami · 21/01/2008 20:56

You are all fantastic, thank you very very much.
I will take all the suggestions on board and come up with a plan of action with dd's teacher.

I am very wary of actively telling her not to do it, as it may lead to a worse habit. My main fear is that she will resort to hairpulling, just now that it is growing back 8 months later..

Thanks again

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katepol · 21/01/2008 21:25

I was going to suggest using 'stop and grow' - which we are using to stop our dd's thumb sucking. It does work, but obviously not a good idea if she then turns to something 'worse' instead. How about stop and grow plus a rubber band ball to fiddle with as a combination strategy?

A friend of mine has a rubber band around her wrist, so when she starts getting anxious, she just pings it and it stops the thought. I could see that might be counterproductive for your dd, but what about something along those lines?

I think that if you dd is anxious, then the classroom is probably the last place she will be 'cured' of it. I would work on the anxiety outside the classroom, and just try to put some 'good enough' strategies for when she is in class...

hippipotami · 21/01/2008 22:29

Thanks Katepol. There is not really as much anxiety outside the classroom. Every day she will come out of school with 3 plasters. Whereas over the weekend I only had to put a plaster on one finger where she had got a bit too nibbly.

I think I have to accept that despite coming across as very confident, she is a little bundle of nerves and finds school a daunting place. So will try to limit her anxieties as much as I can and carry on trying coping-strategies.

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ineedapoo · 21/01/2008 22:32

Dd does this too and it improves over the hols. i have tried ignoring, plasters, saying stop picking over and over again to no avail. We are working on bribery at the mo. A trip to somewhere in half term if the fingers are better

hippipotami · 21/01/2008 22:57

ineedapoo (feels odd typing that sorry about your dd, but I am glad to hear dd is not alone. It is comforting to hear eeryone's stories actually. Makes me realise dd is 'normal' after all!

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Ellbell · 21/01/2008 23:12

I'm another adult who does this (and loathes it) and I would second the idea that nagging really doesn't help. I've been nagged about it all my life (am 40 now) and still do it. I do it when I'm nervous, but also just generally when reading or anything where my hands aren't occupied. I do find that if I can get my hands to heal up completely then I am less tempted to bite/pick them. It's the temptation to just 'neaten up' a bit that's already been chewed that gets me every time. So maybe plasters till they heal would help. I also find nail varnish puts me off putting my fingers in my mouth, although I will still pick.

FWIW I am a successful professional [that makes me sound a bit 'up myself' doesn't it; just meant that it hasn't held me back at all] and have got less anxious as I have got older (though i am still a pretty angsty person overall). My dd1 doesn't bite/pick, but is an inveterate fiddler and the blu-tack/stress-ball technique works well for her. Dd2 bites her nails (including her toe nails!) and chews and twiddles her hair and I've also caught her pulling hairs out (and eating them [shudder]) though only occasionally. So there may be something in it being genetic.

Not sure I've added much, but I'd say this is definitely 'normal' and not a sign of a serious mental problem.

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