Catching and treating bad habits in children - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Catching and treating bad habits in children

(Source: KCBD Graphic) (Source: KCBD Graphic)

What do one out of three kids do under age eight, but by the time they're adolescents, it's nearly one in two?

According to the National Institutes of Health, they bite their nails, and this is the time of year when they can really chew them up.

The NIH suggests that nail biting is a very common response to stress, and what bigger stressor for kids than the start of a new school year?

To the observer, nail biting may look like just an ugly habit, but doctors see it as a problem that can become serious.

Dr. Michelle Tarbox, a Dermatologist and Texas Tech Physician, says "There's a condition called Chronic Paronychia Infection and in the fingernail, that can occur with chronic nail biting. It can be very painful and can require significant oral or even IV medication to treat."

Dr. Tarbox says the best way to avoid that infection is to get control of the behavior before it gets out of control.

You can always put something that tastes bad on your nails. Or you can keep them trimmed and manicured. Those are two suggestions from the NIH, along with keeping a journal to better understand  when and why nail biting occurs.

But, I guess it's time now for a personal note.

I was a terrible nail biter until I was was pregnant with my daughter, Morgan.

Since nail biting often runs in families (and I watched my Dad chew a nail or two at times), I decided to cover my nails with fake nails before my little girl could carry this habit into another generation.

It worked! Because you can't chew through acrylic.

If that's not an option, Dr. Tarbox says there is something else that works for a lot of people.

She says, "There are medications that help a child with repetitive disorders like nail biting or hair pulling."

Hair pulling is another behavior that may be triggered by stress.

It's called Trichotillosis, and if it's not caught early, Dr. Tarbox says this one can spiral into a very serious problem.

She says, "Trichotillosis or hair pulling in some children can be reversible if caught early. But if it goes on for a long period of time, it can become scarring and permanent."

Dr. Tarbox says parents should watch for repetitive behaviors in children like nail biting or hair pulling. Treatment may start with a simple antioxidant vitamin supplement called N-acetylcysteine or NAC. She says just taking that one pill a day has shown promise in reducing repetitive behaviors in some kids. It may be worth a try.

But she says most of all, parents need to remember that these behaviors could signal a bigger struggle within.

Her advice? "If you see these behaviors in a child the might need medication or therapy to be overcome, but it's something to let the child know that it's nothing they're doing wrong. They're just having stress and they need to learn how to cope with it."

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