Contrary to popular belief, nailbiting does not always signify nervousness. For some people, it is merely a bad habit. It is something they do absentmindedly while reading a book, watching tv, driving to work.

Such is it with me. I cannot pinpoint specific times when I will be more likely to gnaw at my fingertips, but frequently I find myself biting while totally preoccupied with an absorbing task.

This is not a pretty habit. It leaves my nails extremely short, ragged, and tired-looking. I must look ridiculous scrunching my mouth around my swollen cuticles, trying to trim them without getting lipstick all over my fingers.

My whole take on this is: If vanity hasn't stopped me from biting yet, what else is there? I'm 21, and if the sight of my red and ragged fingertips doesn't disgust me enough to stop, I doubt anything will.

I didn't bite my nails for six weeks, through my recent minor life crisis and vacation. They needed to be cut desparately, and this sounds crazy, but I don't trust myself with a nail clipper. So I 'trimmed' them with my teeth. They look pretty presentable, right now. Neat, short, a little bit of white showing. We'll see how long this lasts.

It lasted two weeks. Now I'm into the nail biting / cheek biting cycle... sigh.

stand/alone/bitch when stating: "Contrary to popular belief, nail biting does not always signify nervousness." Is correct. Sometimes nail biting is simply a bad habit. vivid in onychophagia also makes some very good points. My reason, I had no nail clippers.

  • Doctor opinions and theories on Nail Biting.
  • Child Nail Biting.
  • Ways to stop nail biting - Children/Adults.

Doctor opinions and theories on Nail Biting.
Biting your fingernails, or even your toenails (disgusting as that seems), is a Compulsive Behavior. It is related to: Masturbation, skin picking, nose picking, cheek biting, pimple popping, itch scratching, and many other disorders revolving around biting and picking. Nail biting is a social disorder commonly found in children, but is found in adults as well.

Dr. Robert Epstein calls nails biting self mutilation. It injures cuticles and damages your nail and skin cells. His theory on best getting rid of the self mutilation is as he answers in reply to a 52 year old women.

Dear Dr. E,
I'm a 52-year-old woman and have bitten my fingernails since I was a child. This is a common habit in my family, but it's quite undesirable. How can I break it?

Dear J,
If your nail-biting is anxiety-related, you could probably benefit from learning and practicing some relaxation techniques (see books such as my Big Book of Stress-Relief Games or Eshelman and McKay's Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook). The best way I know to stop nail-biting, however, is to use the Nail File Technique: Buy 50 cheap nail files and scatter them everywhere you work and play. When a rough edge begins to bother you, grab a file and sand the nail smooth. People rarely bite or pick at nails with smooth edges. By the way, this technique worked beautifully for me when I was 20.

The Encyclopedia Master-Harmless tension:
"Nail biting (onychophagia {on-i-ko-FAY-juh, -jee-uh}) is another of the pretty harmless common tension relieving habits that humans adopt and other humans object to. See masturbation, thumb sucking. *Goes on to later say* Bitter substances painted on the nails don't work either."

Frederick Penzel, Ph.D.-Two modes of nail biters, related to Trichotillomania:
"These nail-biters continually bite their nails past the nail bed and their cuticles until they bleed and are constantly walking around with red, sore, and sometimes infected fingers." Nail biting is related to Trichotillomania.
There are Two modes in which people are when nail biting occurs. "Some do it in an automatic way, as if they are in a trance and not really thinking about what they are doing. Usually, they are involved in some other activity at the same time such as reading, watching TV, etc. For others, the deliberate picking or biting is their main activity at the time, and they will frequently interrupt other activities to engage in it."

Child Nail Biting:
One of the most common child nervous habit is nail biting.

"The most problematic side effect of nail biting (and other nervous habits such as thumb sucking and nose-picking) is social ostracism--the child may be teased by her or his peers, and adults observing a nail-biting child may conclude that he or she is insecure or stressed. In addition, the sight of fingernails chewed to the ends of the fingers is unattractive."

About 30% of children ages 7-10 bite their nails. Although the habit may subside during adolescence, it will most likely continue to stay as a habit untill broken. Growing up as a child I bit my fingernails, and even sometimes chewed off my toenails. The reason was purely because I did not use clippers to take place of my teeth. My parents didn't seem to care, and didn't clip them for me growing up. I was grooming myself the only way I knew possible, biting and using my teeth to tear them off. It was not necessarily healthy for my nails. I damaged them constantly, and made them bleed and hurt. Whenever playing basketball and I went up for a rebound, I would hit the ball against my finger nail, splitting the connection of nail to skin.

The only reason I stopped biting my nails was because one Christmas I received a nailclipper/grooming set. It came with files, a few types of clippers, and a tool to remove excess skin. From then on I was able to take care of myself properly, and my nail biting habbit was gone.

Ways to stop nail biting:

LaylaLeigh makes a few good points on this in: How to quit biting your nails. Although a few good points are great, I think there are many things to build upon.


  1. Choose a time to focus on nail biting when the child is feeling healthy and happy.
  2. The problem could be induced by family issues. To prevent this create a free time on which nail biting is not spoken about. It will psychologically help build them up to break the habit on their own.
  3. Speak to the child about the positive and negative consequences and outcomes of the habit.
  4. Raise awareness. Tell them when they are doing it verbally and by showing them. Place mirrors where the child can see him/herself engaging in nail-biting.
  5. Help the child think of an alternate behavior. For me it was using clippers to groom myself, I spent the time helping instead of hurting myself. Other examples include: Small ball to squeeze, candy to suck on, pencil to write with.

  6. Another way to prevent it and create more awareness is to have the child wear gloves or socks over the hands during the times when nail biting is the most likely to occur. --This could cause emotionally stress and/or social teasing. I do not suggest doing this while the child is at school. Most children will have problems with this method.

  7. Band-aids or bandages may be worn on the fingertips.

  8. Commercial products that have strong, unappealing flavors can also be applied to the nails.


  1. A child can not sit still as is, do not force them to sit on their hands for nail biting.
  2. Punish the child for engaging in nail biting.
  3. Discuss the nail biting in public.
  4. Demand that the child stop nail biting.
  5. Physically stop the nail biting by slapping or removing the hand away. Instead verbally tell them what is happening and ask them to remove it by their own will.
  6. Expect the nail biting habit to be broken immediately. --- A strategy that involves several steps with intermediate rewards is more likely to be effective at breaking a habit.


  1. For women, and some men, nail polish for fingers. --There is also a special clear liquid applied on finger nails that has a bitter taste. It was made to stop biting finger nails and is sold for this sole reason.
  2. Whenever I eat an orange 'the fruit', I peel it with my fingers, this puts the peel's acid onto my nails. The acid is very bitter.
  3. A glove or mitten of some sort will keep you from biting.
  4. Applying lipstick will help prevent you from getting a mess all over your fingers.
  5. A nail clipping set may be purchased to take proper care for the nails. You will find replacing the time of biting with grooming to be more sufficient and healthy.
  6. Dr. Robert Epstein's Nail File Theory. ---I'm not as willing to do this theory, as I live with family and that social factor would cause me to rather take personal care in private quaters.

Children Nervous habit information comes from --- Gale Encyclopedia of Childhood & Adolescence. Gale Research, 1998.
Dr. Robert Epstein from:
Encyclopedia Master:
Frederick Penzel, Ph.D.:

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