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My 4-Year-Old Daughter Biting Her Nails



Reply Date

Feb 19, 2017


Assalamu Alaykum, Since my 4 year old has started school, she has developed a nasty habit of biting her nails. I want to try and get her to stop but I am unsure how. She likes to wear nail polish and I have told her she can't wear it until she stops biting her nails as I don't want it in her mouth and I have told her nails have to look nice to wear it. What methods can I use to help her to stop?Jazak Allah kheir



Nail biting

As-Salaamu ‘alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhum

Thank you for asking this important question.

Bad habits, in general, are something called “symptoms” and not a problem in and of themselves, per se—although they can definitely become problems in and of themselves. But, our first line of defense is to resolve the problem that is causing the symptom rather than addressing the symptom.

Nail biting, like any bad habit is a symptom of something else which is causing a person stress, usually. A bad habit is a “artificial” for of relief for something that the person cannot get relief from by changing the thing that is causing them the stress.

Thus, I would look first at that which could be causing her stress and try to alleviate that first, if you can. As you know, we cannot always remove the things that stress us. Like, a child may be in a family where there is fighting between the parents, or the parents may be getting a divorce—you can’t not fight, or not get a divorce just because it is stressing out your child—I wish that reason worked! Nonetheless, we need to at least figure out the source of the stress.

I do not know what kind of parent(s) you are, so what I am about to say may or may not apply to you. So, please don’t take offense if it does not apply to you, but if it does, then it may help for you to hear it. Parenting in the modern world is done all wrong, for the most part, if we use the Prophet’s (Peace on him) guidance as our gage. The Prophet (Peace on him) said that we are supposed to be our children’s “slave” up to the age of 7. After that, they need to be our slave until the age of 14. After that, we become their “advising friends”. Now, what does being a child’s “slave” mean. Well, it cannot mean do whatever the child commands because, when the child is two and three, they do not know anything about how to live in the world and they just want everything they want and throw temper tantrums when they don’t get what they want. So it has to mean (inShaAllah) that we enslaved to “taking care of them” and teaching them—which sounds about right.

However, it also has an element of giving them what they want in it… and that is where a lot of parents go wrong in my opinion. We think that the more we discipline them, the better for them and I don’t think that is right, according to our Prophet’s (Peace on him) guidance. I think we need to figure out how to let them “play” and explore and get what they want a lot – when it is safe. And, yes, it means our life is taken over with theirs. That is why I don’t believe in the feminist movement—because we need to devote our lives to our children for them to have healthy upbringings, inShaAllah.

Think about it. This tiny creature had everything they needed instantly when in our womb. Then, they come out to being bombarded with the opposite. No wonder their cries sound like they are absolutely miserable—they are! We have to help them with that! We have to gently transition them into this hard life with tons of loving care so that they can feel safe with us so they can deal with the harsh world. Disciple and serving our needs is for later, after age 7. Let them get what they need and want to be able to tolerate this harsh plane, i.e., let them be a little “selfish” for now. They will have to learn “self-less-ness” too soon enough, inShaAllah.

I like to explain it as analogous to stopping at a red light, i.e., taking turns. We have to learn when to give totally over to the other person so that they can get their needs me, and then we can get our turn next, inShaAllah.

Beyond that, to change the habit… wow – that is a hard one. I agree with what you have already done (although I find it very strange that a four-year old is already into nail polish (does she have an older sister who is sharing that with her?). You need to know that habit changing is a really hard thing to do. When we have a habit, it gouges out physical pathways in our neurological system, i.e., in our brains. To change a habit we have to replace it with a different habit that will gouge out a different pathway in our brain. You child may not have the emotional development at age four to deal with habit changing. It is something that the individual has to be very “conscious” about. You can change it for her with a replacement or a reward. Like I said, I am not into punishments, but some people try that too. Just like with potty training, rewards, like chocolate (small pieces) or jelly beans ( halal ones) can help.

May Allah Make it easy for you

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About Nasira S. Abdul-Aleem

Nasira S. Abdul-Aleem, an American, has a BA in English from UC Berkeley and is about to receive an MS degree in counseling psychology (Marriage and Family Therapy - MFT) from the Western Institute for Social Research. For over ten years, Nasira worked as a psychotherapist with the general public and in addiction recovery. For the last few years, she has been a life coach specializing in interpersonal relations. Nasira also consults with her many family members who studied Islam overseas and returned to America to be Imams and teachers of Islam. Muslims often ask Nasira what psychology has to do with Islam. To this, she replies that Islam is the manifestation of a correct understanding of our psychology. Therapists and life coaches help clients figure out how to traverse the path of life as a Believer, i.e., "from darkness into light", based on Islam and given that that path is an obstacle course, according to Allah.

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