My five-year-old, Austin, has bitten his nails for years. Since I did it as a child, I haven’t felt qualified to stifle that habit. Kids will be kids, right? I figured he’d probably grow out of that one like I eventually did. (And the nose-picking thing…yeah. Sometimes you’ve just gotta turn your head and pretend you didn’t see it.) But his latest compulsion? Biting his TOES. Not the nails, but the actual toes. Once he’s bitten his nails bloody, he moves on to the tips of his toes and starts chowing down like a rabid puppy. I know! Weird, right?
The first few days he’d ask for a band-aid because he “tripped over” something or “scratched” it, but after awhile I knew something was going on. And when I first discovered his little body contorted on the couch, his toe in his mouth, I decided it was time for drastic measures. Like cheeseburgers.
We don’t eat cheeseburgers much since my diet started (when mom’s dieting, everyone’s dieting). So I offered to take him out for a burger on Saturday if he could go a whole week without biting his toes. He hopped up and down on the injured toe and agreed. I figured the problem was solved. I’m never above bribery, after all, and it was for his own good. Right?
Two days later I found him sneaking band-aids from the cupboard. He denied it, but upon closer inspection I could tell that he had, indeed, been biting his toes. And it wasn’t just the daddy toe this time. Oh, no. He’d moved on to every single toe on his right foot. And the poor daddy toe didn’t look so good. He’d bitten off the scabs, which left bloody gashes in the skin. It looked like he’d taken a knife to the poor thing.
Since it was obvious that this would take more than a cheeseburger, I offered to start the week over and threw in ice cream as well. He looked sincerely contrite and promised–pinky promised, even–that he wouldn’t do it again. I bandaged the toes, knowing full well that the band-aids wouldn’t last five minutes, and resolved to keep a closer eye on him.
Two weeks. After two weeks of bribery, threats, and guilt trips, nothing was working. And his toes looked horrible. My husband jumped on board and took over “bandage” duty, which involved cream, tape, gauze, multiple bandages, and socks at this point. He only seemed to enjoy the extra attention.
I was getting concerned. Did he feel unloved? Nervous? Ignored? Was he one of those pain-loving kids? Was I bad mother? My husband and I discussed putting nasty-tasting goop on his toes to discourage the habit, but we didn’t dare since the skin hadn’t healed yet.
Finally, at bedtime one night, I told Austin that if he would stop biting his toes, I’d take him to Chuck-E-Cheese’s on Saturday. (You have to understand how desperate I must have been to make such an offer. It’s not my favorite place.) His eyes lit up and he pinky promised again.
The funny thing is, he stopped.
Nervous habit? Attention-grabbing activity? Or is he just an incredibly smart kid who knows how to manipulate his parents? I guess we’ll never know.
Meanwhile, I’m keeping the first-aid kit stocked. You never know what he’ll come up with next.
What is your child’s weirdest habit, and how did you kick it? I’d love to see comments, especially ones that convince me that I’m not alone in this strange world of goofy children. 🙂