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How to cut children’s nails

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 26.01.2023 | 2 min read

It can be difficult as a parent to know how to approach the difficult task of cutting your child’s nails. As children get older, they can think of much better things to be doing than sitting still and being groomed – and it might feel like a daunting task for to pin them down and overcome any built-up fears.

Whilst it’s tempting to leave it, any scratches or marks serve as a reminder that the job can't be ignored forever.

There’s the additional concern, as they get older, of long nails being a warm, moist haven for bacteria. This puts them at risk of infected skin if they get itchy conditions like eczema, and short nails reduce the chance of nail-biting habits.

Toenails in children can often become ingrown, and the sides of fingernails can get bacterial infections if bitten or pulled off.

We’ve put together some tips from our own experience to help get the job done.

What’s the best environment?

Make sure nail cutting occurs in a relaxed, familiar and calm environment. Older children respond well to distraction, so get someone else to read them a story or sing with them while you’re cutting their nails. After bathtime can be a useful time, as nails are softer and more easily cut, and children are more relaxed.

What’s the best equipment?

Always use an apparatus that has blunt edges or baby nail scissors with rounded edges, this saves worry and any unnecessary accidents. Nail clippers can be quite fidgety if the child is very active and nail files are often not tolerated well. If you share nail clippers with anyone else in the family, it's best to sterilise them after each use. 

How can parents help?

It helps to have a calming adult who removes any added anxiety as children can sense that. You can show what will happen on yourself first, so they can see there’s nothing to fear. You could sing a song they know the words to, encouraging them to join in to serve as a distraction and to make light of the situation.

Remember that it’s not essential to get both hands and toes done all at once, as that can be quite an ordeal. You want them to have a good experience. Doing a few nails at a time may help them ease into the process and make it a success, as they’ll need to develop the habit for many years to come.

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