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Tips & Tricks for Nail Trimming

Let’s talk about a self-care tasks that many kiddos struggle to tolerate…..nail trimming! Whether it be toes or fingernails, the process of getting nails trimmed can be a struggle for many different reasons and as occupational therapists, we are trained to help. Here are some tips and tricks you can try with your child to make this grooming task a breeze.

First thing to consider— we need to improve the child’s tactile processing system and acceptance of touch. To get the child used to their hands and feet being handled you can try the following:

  • build a hand and foot massage into your nightly routine
  • play “three little piggies”
  • count on fingers
  • have a thumb war
  • rock paper scissors
  • go barefoot outside
  • messy play with the hands/feet

Next, we need to improve the child’s ability to tolerate nail clippers. Just the sight of them can send some kiddos into “fight or flight”, or maybe the sound is difficult to tolerate. It’s important to be considerate of how the environment is set up and remain attuned to the child’s sensory needs while trying the following:

  • offer movement/wiggle breaks throughout clipping activities, have preferred music playing, or diffuse calming scents i.e. lavender
  • with supervision, let the child use nail clippers to trim items i.e. dried spaghetti noodles or edges of paper
  • assist the child in trimming an adult’s nails
  • buy press-on nails and stick to dolls/toys for child to trim
  • touch the clippers to each of the child’s fingers/toes, with no expectation of cutting a nail
  • trim stickers applied to the child’s fingers/toes

When it’s time for the ‘real deal’, we should prepare the child’s body for the task and keep the routine as predictable as possible while trying the following:

  • before trimming, have the child do a calming activity to regulate their nervous system i.e. blow bubbles, animal walks, carry heavy items or
  • attempt trimming in a calm environment; you can even try the bath
  • prepare the child that when the timer goes off, it will be time to trim their nails
  • start with just ONE nail a day if needed
  • some children like the use of a flashlight to illuminate the area so they can really see what’s going on
  • some children like to have their hand on the clippers to assist
  • stay calm! Continue to verbally reassure that it will not hurt and you will only do the number of nails you initially stated
  • you may consider using a sticker chart and once all nails are trimmed, the child will earn a small reward

I hope you find these strategies useful in creating a positive experience with nail trimming. If problems persist, or your child struggles to tolerate other ADL tasks remember—an occupational therapist can help!

– Meredith Doyle, MS, OTR/L