Monday, November 9, 2009

Operation Cessation

Because when you have a child who is special, you need special operations.

Zach started biting his nails last spring. Fine, lots of people bite their nails. But in August he moved from nails to fingertips. Not so fine. Biting fingers is icky. Biting fingers prevents writing which interferes with learning. Biting fingers makes the other kids look at you weird. Biting fingers must cease.

To change an unwanted behavior, one must ascertain the antecedent to the behavior, so the smarty pants theory goes. Control the antecedent, control the behavior. Easy enough but Zach's teachers and I can't figure out what makes Zach bite. Is he stressed, bored, nervous? Does he do it on purpose as an escape from school work? Who knows?

So without knowing exactly why he bites his fingers we're still trying to help him stop. I searched the Internet and decided on a bottle of horrifically-tasting-yet safe-for-children nail polish. The night of its arrival I coated the fingertips and nails of a sleeping and unsuspecting Zach. The next day I watched for signs of disgust, the teachers did as well. Zach knew something was different about those fingertips but it didn't stop him. Maybe he likes the taste of cayenne pepper.

Back to the Internet and this time I loaded my cart with a disgustingly-flavored cream plus a Berenstain Bears book about bad habits to drive the point home. The cream isn't much of a departure from the nail polish however, and this is important, the cream has omega 3 in it which means it heals as it deters. Sold. I was feeling pretty good about these purchases because of the one-two punch. Physically the cream would taste terrible and mentally the book would teach Zach why some habits are bad.

Zach didn't like the Berenstain Bears book. Now maybe if Thomas the Tank Engine had a problem biting his nails, uh, wheels? I guess that wouldn't work. But the cream has been somewhat successful. At bedtime Zach allows me to rub it on his fingertips which renders his hands useless. He very carefully holds his hands out as I tuck the covers around him. I think the omega 3 works too in smoothing the rough edges of skin that taunt him.

The rendered-useless-hands won't work for school so no cream in the morning. At school Zach's wonderful teachers devised a reward system. Minutes spent not biting earn a Thomas sticker. A certain number of stickers can be exchanged for extra time on the computer. This plus the cream is helping. And I say "hands down, no biting" a lot.

Last week was particularly challenging for Zach. A favorite teacher was out for a few days, the weather changed, the moon was full, etc. On Monday he spent lots of time with his fingers and then visited the nurse who bandaged three of them. It made me sad, very sad, to see those wrapped fingers when I picked him up after school. I thought we'd made progress but maybe not so much. This may take a while to conquer.

Any suggestions other than "take him to get a manicure so he can be proud of his nails and won't bite them anymore". I think I'll get the "no, no" from Zach on that one.


  1. I don't have any particularly sage words for you, but hang in there. Parenthood hurts, no? There is always something to make us worry, to make us sad, to remind us of just how rabidly we love our little creatures.

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  3. Aidan- yes sometimes it hurts but I'll take it just to have that boy!

    Yames- you always know just what to say.