As a lifelong nail-biter, I was never proud of this hard-to-break habit. It sat in the shadows for me, until the day I noticed my 2-year-old starting to bite his little nails. The emotions that went through my head when I first saw my son biting his nails, were ones of horror and disappointment—disappointment at myself for passing on my very worst habit to my child.
Do As I Say Not As I Do - What could I do then to make my son stop biting his nails? Quitting cold turkey was the most obvious, albeit, difficult option. So, I went with the easier choice: “Do as I say, not as I do” approach. I told my son how dirty it was to bite his nails, and that the germs in his mouth could make him sick. I told him that his nails did not look nice all chewed down. I told him that just because Mommy bit her nails, he did not need to do the same. Needless to say, this did not stop my son from biting his nails!
The Invisible Habit - I wondered if it would make a difference should I only chew my nails when my son did not see me? After all, out of sight is out of mind. So, every time I saw my son coming, I made sure to not be biting my fingernails. I was sure he did not see me. “Mommy, were you biting your nails?”, he would ask. I guess he saw me after all! This approach did not work.
Positive Reinforcement - Everyone likes to receive praise, so I praised my son lavishly every time he did not have his fingers in his mouth. I complimented his nails shamelessly and told him he had the hands of a prince. I even offered him the reward of his choice if he could go for one week without biting his nails. This technique fell short.
Quitting Cold Turkey – When all else failed, I decided to go cold turkey and quit my lifelong habit of fingernail biting. This was not an easy task, but I could not bear to see my little son emulating my image. I did not want my son to endure the same lifelong habit. I told my son that Mommy had stopped biting her nails and he should too. At first he didn’t quite believe I had quit my habit, and continued biting his nails. Then…
Seeing Is Believing – For my son, the proof was in the pudding: he wanted to see physical evidence that Mommy had quit biting her nails. About one week later, the proof arrived as my nails grew long enough to display their “whites”. The evidence satisfied my son and he stopped biting his nails around that time also! As his fingernails continued to grow, he was proud to display the “whites” of his nails to me too.
Two years have passed now, and my son and I have not bitten our nails since I first grew my fingernails long. What I have learned from my own trials and tribulations as a parent, is that I am my child’s best role model. And to be that all important role model, it means sacrificing and quashing my own worst habits.
This article was written by me, Jenna Em, and appears in the Wednesday September 12th, 2012 issue of the Kuklamoo blog.