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My 4 year old's nervous habit might be more than just a bad habit...

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
My 4 year old's bad habit began with biting off the sharp pieces of skin that stick out near the nail. I had a talk with about it with her and have been trimming them before she gets to them. I am now worried because she has recently began to bit her nails so short that her nail bed becomes exposed. Furthermore, she then scratches, pulls, and gnaws at the tender skin around her nails.
Needless to say, I'm very worried as to why she would do such a thing and the pain she may be putting herself through. I have asked her if it hurts her but she says no. However, I'm worried and need it to stop. I just don't know how to get her to stop. I have tried everything. I'm now wondering if its a nervous tick or if its something more that I need to get professional help for her.
I am a single mom and her father has recently stopped showing up for his weekend visitation. To make matters worst I took a job that keeps me away from home for a few days at a time, so she stays at grama's house a lot. But she seems to love it there. My greatest worry is that it's a way to release emotional distress. This is why I'm thinking that she might need professional help. I am currently looking for another job that will keep me at home. Other than that I don't know what to do. I would like to gather the most information about this in order to make an informed decision. Any advice or input would be greatly appreciated.
post #2 of 9
She might just be a picker...I've done the same thing since I was little and there wasn't any trauma or anything involved. I just can't resist picking at any bit of rough skin. smile.gif You know her best though, does she seem ok otherwise?
post #3 of 9

i would not freak out over it. don't show her any stress you feel.

do get a quality, regular hand lotion, such as vaseline intensive care, get a pump bottle and put it right next to the sink where she washes hands. do this in a fun way, not a stress problem. set up the hand washing area so that she first uses soap, then uses a nice clean towel, then when her hands are try, she gets some nice lotion to rub into her skin, especially the skin around her nails. you can rub it right into the nails, and the surrounding skin. don't gob on so much that it's overwhelming. just a little shot on each hand, and rub thoroughly. this will lessen the amount of dry skin available to trigger her picking habit. keep her hands moisturized and supple.


then, when this is the new "normal" for her skin, you can see if she moves on to another thing to "pick" -- in which case she might be a "picker." or maybe she can move on to something else altogether. 


are you giving her good tactile outlets? those touch balls with the long spiky soft tentacles such as you can buy at the dollar tree are good. point out opportunities to touch stuff. give her touch outlets. she may just be really into touch.


i would avoid psychological help for this, if you can instead redirect her to touching something more appropriate.


having dry skin around her nails is a situation you can control if you are diligent about using the good quality lotion. also make sure she always dries her hands thoroughly after washing them. i say take care to provide soft, FRESH drying towels. if she's "into touch," these kinds of "small" considerations are noticed and greatly appreciated.


i say all of this as someone who is also concerned with touch. my son is a "toucher," always has been. when he was a little baby he wanted so badly to twiddle the opposite nipple while he nursed. i could not stand that and never allowed it, but he moved on to my armpits, and now finds comfort and security touching the stubble while he nurses. LOL it's cute and doesn't hurt anyone. i just gave up on deodorant for awhile so he doesn't' touch chemicals.


i always point out opportunities for him to touch stuff (when it's appropriate) when we are out and about. like, "ooh, i bet that feels neat. want to touch it? go ahead..." he went through a faze in which he bit his nails. but when he went to far and made them bleed, i stayed calm and explained why that happened, and that this is the risk you take when you start biting your nails and fingertips. i let him own the responsibility for it, but i also stepped up by diligence about using the lotion. when a child is asleep at night, you can also "do" their hands with lotion to soften their skin overnight. a quality lotion will get rid of "rough" skin or sharp points around the fingernails. you can solve this particular problem quickly. 


good luck!

post #4 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thank you for the advice. I will implement the lotion application to her daily routine and look for touch outlets as you mentioned.
post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 
Yes, she is doing well otherwise.
Originally Posted by stormborn View Post

She might just be a picker...I've done the same thing since I was little and there wasn't any trauma or anything involved. I just can't resist picking at any bit of rough skin. smile.gif You know her best though, does she seem ok otherwise?
post #6 of 9
I am another person who has always picked at the skin besides my nails - at least as long as I can remember. My mom used to get mad at me for biting my nails so I switched to the skin beside them. Picking, biting at it, whatever. It was and is just something to keep my hands busy. There was no trauma involved with it, and most of what comes off is just a top layer of skin and does not hurt. Periodically it goes a bit deeper than expected and that does hurt, but that is pretty rare. This isn't something I would worry about in a child.
post #7 of 9

It can be exacerbated by stress.  From a nail/skin biter here - I really only do it when there's high levels of stress in my life.  It doesn't have to be stress at that moment - I could be sitting watching tv, perfectly content, and if there's been a lot of stressful things in general going on, I default to the biting.  There have been times where I've really conciously thought about it and stopped myself.  I've used the lotion and regular manicures as a 'reward' of sorts - if my hands look better it makes me feel better (more so now as an adult, I didn't care about the looks as a kid) and I'm less likely to do it.  But I find I do it subconsiously most of the time and when I finally stop and realize what I'm doing I've usually gone too far and it might be bleeding or really sensistive.  Trying to minimize stress helps, so does having another outlet.  When I was more active and playing sports pretty much year round it helped burn away that stress.  I've been on a bad kick at the moment and I know I need to find an outlet!

post #8 of 9

I am SO your daughter.  Even to this day (as I look at my nails that are currently wider than they are longer).  And because I had divorced parents (it was pretty vicious) and lived with my mother (who we really should've been removed from--and left on our own when I was TWELVE) people thought it was nerves.  And that looked logical.


But it continued on even to this day and as an adult, I got fake nails put on.  The second they were anything but smooth--I BIT THEM OFF.  Seriously no joke... silk, acrylic... didn't matter, they came off.


BUT, if they remained smooth, I could actually grow my own nails out underneath and maintain my own nails--for years at a time.  I had to keep a file/polishing stone on hand ALWAYS because if I had the slightest unsmooth edge--it was all over.  Bad.  So clearly, not nerves since I could manage for a few years.  And honestly, I'm not OCD by any stretch--although I guess this behavior is kinda OCD-ish.  I'm just saying it's not like I have an overall personality profile of someone with obvious OCD.


Just in case the other stuff doesn't work out... just sayin'.

post #9 of 9

I've picked at my nails since I can remember. Not so much a nail bitter as I am a skin picker/bitter as a previous poster mentioned. I don't know why exactly I do it. I know it does get worse if I am nervous or stressed out but I'm never NOT picking. I've explored reasons why I do it including stress, or the feeling of the skin there being 'dirty' and needing to be removed. My mom did try several things when I was younger to get me to stop, but nothing worked and really only made me feel bad about it and I didn't really understand why it was such a big deal. I'd say try and be sensitive to her feelings about it because it's likely something she's embarrassed about it already. Make sure she washes her hands frequently, since if there are open wounds near her nails she could get infections. Otherwise, I'd say it's not anything to really be concerned about.

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