Fancy a Nibble ?

by Chris Hoare

June 12th 2023

When I was much younger than I can remember (for me that means very young) my mother painted some stuff onto my fingernails that tasted absolutely awful. The aim was to stop me nibbling my nails. To her dismay I licked the stuff off, with a grimace, and continued to nibble.

Nail biting might be one of our oldest habits. When I say old I mean that it starts at a very early age, unlike smoking or constantly checking social media.  It can result in some nasty stomach bugs, not to mention infections of the mouth and fingers.  One real bad boy is E.coli, but there is a veritable garden of nasties right behind our fingertips. (See the links at the end of this blog post for a more detailed breakdown)

So why do so many people do it?

Although associated with anxiety or stress, nail biting is a habit that can often be learned from our mothers when we are really young. Many times I have noticed a mother (or sometimes a father) nibbling on their child's fingernails. You may even have done it yourself

Every mother will recognise how razor sharp an infant's fingernails can be. If a parent is cuddling their child or breastfeeding, the response to getting scratched is immediate and obviously negative. It is amazing how sensitive infants are to our emotions, and how they mirror them as they learn to communicate and respond. If this is then followed by nail clipping or nibbling then the link can be made, especially when this action gets repeated. Negative feelings later can trigger the anchored response in the child.

This isn't to say that all nail biting starts this way, but it is a convincing argument. The good news is that not all infants go on to become lifelong nail biters.

What can we do about it?

This is an habitual behaviour that is triggered by conscious and unconscious feelings.  If the child's (or adult's) mind unconsciously perceived a benefit from nibbling at their nails then it will persist until this is changed. The good news is that it can be changed very quickly in adults and children by using hypnotherapy, changing those unconscious links.

The benefits of not nibbling

Aside from the attractiveness of beautiful nails, it is not an exaggeration to say that stopping the habit could be a significant life saver(i). At the very least it could cause a drop in oral and gastrointestinal infections(ii). Add to that the amount of damage done to teeth and gums by nail biting abd you can see it is a habit that we as a society could do without.