How Do You Break Your Child of Your Own Bad Habit?

I have always picked and bitten my nails. It’s a terrible habit that often leaves my fingers bloody and hurting. So when my son’s teacher mentioned how badly he’d been picking his nails in class, I cringed a little and put my hand in my pockets. I had been doing the same thing for at least 40 years, how in the world was I going to break my child of my own bad habit?

Trying to hide a bleeding cuticle
Trying to hide a bleeding cuticle

When Your Children Pick Up on Your Bad Habits

As parents, we set out to be good examples. We want our children to do better and be better, and personally I wanted my son to not go through life with bloody nubs for fingers. I remember being my son’s age when my mom tried everything to get me to stop chewing my nails. When begging, pleading and yelling didn’t work, she resorted to putting pepper on my nails. I promptly wiped it off on the couch and got right back to chewing.

As an adult, I’ve managed to get around the nail biting by keeping my nails painted. As long as they are smooth and nice, I won’t pick at them. There’s no saving the cuticles though. I still attack those with a vengeance, and it intensifies when I’m stressed and anxious. It’s so bad that I will vow to stop doing it, only to find my finger crammed in my mouth 10 seconds later with no idea how it got there.

At home, my son picks his nails AND his toes! I feel like I’m constantly telling him to stop, which is ironic because I’m usually sitting next to him munching on a ragged cuticle. His poor little nails are in terrible shape and I don’t know what to do, because nothing my mom tried worked on me.

I’ve tried giving him manicures, so all his nails are smooth and filed with nothing to pick. Then 10 minutes later he will pick at some imaginary hangnail and start the destruction process all over again. I try to be ready with the clippers when I see him picking, so I can swoop in and take care of the offending rough edge.

But still, he picks.

nail biting funny

If I can focus on one positive thing here, it’s that at least he isn’t biting his nails (and toes). Biting is worse than picking, especially for little kids and their usually germ-infested little hands.

The Frustration of Being a Bad Example

As a side note, I had to write this today just to get it off my chest and express my frustration with the situation. When I tried to talk to my husband about it, I got as far as- “Keelan’s teacher mentioned he’d been picking his nails pretty bad in class,” and before I could say anything else he jumped in with, “What do you expect? He learned it from watching you.”

Whoa there. I know it wasn’t his intention, but it did make me feel worse about the entire situation. I already feel bad that he’s doing it and I don’t know how to help. Now I’ve been branded as the Bad Example as if he saw me and thought it looked like so much fun to pick at yourself until it hurts and bleeds. That’s not how this stuff works.

So I cut the conversation short and decided I’d just go work through my parental failure feelings here. I am a bad example. I’m sitting here typing this with a bandage on one finger because after that conversation I went to town on my cuticles so bad that one got infected. I showed the injury to my son in hopes it would “scare him straight.” I don’t think it made a big impression, but I’m trying.

And that’s all I can do. Try and guide him. Try and be there to fix his nails when he’s picking. And try to stop doing it myself so I can be a better example.

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