Emotional Project – Help for Nail Biting

By Keiko Sato-Perry

Sometimes our children are holding on to BIG feelings that can’t be released in a smaller amounts of listening time. We call these issues “Emotional Projects”.  Below is one mom’s story of how she used various listening tools, from Playlistening to Special Time to Listening Partnerships to help her sons with nail biting.

About five months ago, I realized my 6-year-old son was biting down his nails and I couldn't remember the last time I had clipped them.

It all started when he had a toe nail infection two years prior. He started picking on the toe nail as it healed, eventually biting on all nails, even his toe nails! His 3-year-old brother started imitating and began chewing his finger nails too. One night, I saw them both biting their nails together.

I took my upset and concerns to my listening partner. I talked about my own neurotic behaviors. I talked about nail biting, how I feel about it and how I feel about my sons doing it. It felt to me as if nail biting was one of those habits that was almost impossible to shake off. I worried my sons were doomed to live with the habit for the rest of their lives.

When I saw nail biting and became antsy, I tried my best to put that feeling in my mental pocket until the next listening time. I managed not to show my anxiety to my sons 90% of the time.

A few times, when I felt relaxed and saw my son biting his nails, I sat close and kissed him on his face and finger nails, saying, “I love you. When you feel like biting your nails, I hope you can come to me and tell me how you feel.”

We also did a lot of rough-housing almost every day. I gradually became better at it. My sons became better at it too. They started to rough-house like tiger cubs, vigorously and fiercely, but with lots of glee and laughter. Then we had a family vacation, when my sons both had lots of Special Time and time to cry too.

When we came back from our vacation, I noticed both of my sons had longer nails. Finally, I clipped my son's nails on his seventh birthday. My younger son's nails are growing back too.

Today, I saw him putting his finger in his mouth. So I started kissing it lovingly without saying anything. To this, he said, “Mommy, I am not biting my nail.” and he wasn't. It may be too early to say that this is the end of my sons' nail biting. However, addressing concerns lovingly and effectively in this manner felt really good to me, and I would like to celebrate this moment of success with you.

Going through a big emotional project or tricky stage with your child? Read how A Good Cry and a Good Listener Changes Everything

Find out how laughter and physical play can release your child's buried fears and pent up aggression in How to Help Kids Face Their Fears with Play


Meet the Instructor

—Keiko Sato-Perry, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Learn more about connected parenting, plus tips and advice in our monthly newsletter.

Join Keiko in her next online Parenting by Connection Starter Class.

You can read more of Keiko's stories here and learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

2 thoughts on “Emotional Project – Help for Nail Biting”

  1. This post helped me a lot. My 4 yr. old daughter bites her nails. The post reminded me to put my concerns in my mental pocket and to help her with her feelings/concerns/anxieties. I so hope to be a better parent and it seems so out of reach most days. But the tone of Parenting by Connection makes such a difference. Thanks.

  2. Such a lovely way of showing how all of these Parenting By Connection tools weave together to help us help our children work through their emotional projects. Thanks Keiko for sharing your success stories with us!

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