I remember as a child when my mom tried to get me to stop biting my nails. But since she, too, bit her nails, it was a pretty difficult sell. Both she and an elementary school classmate warned me of intestinal parasites. (The classmate had been grossed out of biting her nails after she actually did get worms. shudder.) But hey, if I wash my hands and then bite my nails, I'm good.
When my first son was born, he didn't care for a pacifier. He didn't suck his thumb. We were thankful.
But then when Splig was born, he nearly ate up the first pacifier we brought him. He destroyed them, so we decided it would probably be safer not to let him mangle up binkies and then swallow the remains.
Of course he switched to his thumb.
His teeth literally became sucked-in, affecting his speech in the present and our wallet in the future. His eardrums also got sucked in. Of course his thumb turned white and scaly.
We got him a "thumb guard" a few months before he was scheduled for triple-surgery: myringotomy (tubes in the ears), adenoidectomy, and tonsillectomy. We explained to him that sucking his thumb after the myringotomy would hurt, bad. (We weren't lying - sucking the tubes out would have been painful!)
With the assistance of the thumb guard and the understanding of the surgery, Splig stopped sucking his thumb. His eagerness to go to Kindergarten while "Kindergarten kids don't suck their thumbs!" helped, too. (He is probably the only child in our pediatrician's practice who begged for vaccines because he knew he had to fill up his shot chart to gain school entry.)
But, in the absence of the thumb-sucking, he started biting his nails. And also, picking his nose to eat the goobers. Yum!
He is definitely the type of kid who loves to chew gum, and for whom just one cigarette might tip him into a very nasty habit, indeed. My maternal grandparents smoked, and I'm pretty sure why: we just need to have something in our mouths.
I avoided getting hooked on cigarettes only because I saw my grandma die young, and because I knew the strong pull of addiction. If I couldn't stop biting my nails (which was purely a sensory experience) then how would I be able to stop smoking should I start (which involves addictive substances as well as the sensory pleasure)? I knew intellectually I couldn't go down that path - and will certainly drill the point home with Splig, too.
I know that we trade one addiction for another. After all, Splig went from pacifier to thumb to nails. I've had large periods of time when my nails have been beautiful, but that is usually when I'm doing something else to obsession. In first grade, for example, my nails were gorgeous, but I enjoyed eating those beautifully soft pink erasers. I nibbled little bites, and it felt wonderful. I also tried forming little "retainers" out of stripped-off twisty-ties to give me something solid to play with using my tongue. Those felt good as long as the end didn't poke into my cheek. (Come to think of it, my nails were pretty nice when I actually did have braces - with rubber bands - and later a retainer, throughout middle school and high school. Hmmm.) Of course I've done the gum-thing, and the food-thing. (Alas, my recent interest in running hasn't tamed my less-than-talons since it involves a whole different system.)
Still, I try to stop Splig from biting his nails when I can.
Last night, I told him to stop - and I showed him my nails as evidence.
"Wow, those are really ugly," he agreed.
"Yes!" I admitted. "You don't want to keep biting your nails or yours will look ikky like this."
But then a smile spread across his face. "Oh! They are so delicious aren't they!" He had complete love in his eyes. He cocked his head to one side. He knew his mommy would understand.
I couldn't help laughing. I had a similar conversation with my mom decades ago - about how there is just nothing quite like... well, I'll spare you the description. She agreed that gum, food, flossing, or even those little stim-u-dents can't mimic the sensation of a freshly-torn nail.
"Yeah," I sighed and smiled. "But it is a really gross habit. My nails look really bad, and I could get sick by eating something that is under my nail!"
Splig was not surprisingly unconvinced. "But it is sooooo good."
I knew I had completely lost any credibility, but offered a final, "Really, you don't want to keep biting your nails or you won't be able to stop, like me."
He responded, "If you eat your goobers, that would be so awesome! Then we'd be the same people!"
Sorry, Buddy. I am not going to start eating my goobers just so we could have that nasty habit in common. No. Way.