Do you dread trimming your child’s nails? If your little one is on the autism spectrum or has sensory processing issues or sensitivities, grooming can be a very stressful situation for the both of you. Actually, “stressful” may not even accurately describe just how upsetting and frustrating it can be. You are not alone, and know that there are some tips a that may be able to help make life a little easier and lessen the stress. Read below for some helpful tips!
- Let’s face it, nail clippers can look scary. Try buying a pair of “kid-friendly” nail clippers that are more visually appealing. They sell cute animal clippers (ex: in the shape of a dino or dolphin).
- Re-evaluate your need to use nail CLIPPERS. If your child absolutely cannot tolerate nail cutting, experiment a little. Maybe using baby nail scissors that have a rounded tip will be less irritating for your child. Or maybe even try using a nail file. It takes much longer, but if your child is tolerant of the file versus the clippers, it’s a lot less stressful for the both of you!
- Before nail cutting, have your child squeeze putty, play-dough, or a stress-ball. You can give deep pressure “squeezes” to their shoulders/ arms or a lotion massage. The heavy work/ deep pressure input can help to reduce your child’s tactile sensitivity.
- Have your child hold a vibrating toy in his/her hands prior to or during nail clipping. The vibration helps to “desensitize” the area prior to nail clipping in the hope that it isn’t as bothersome. You can also “brush” each nail with a toothbrush prior to clipping each nail. If you really want to be snazzy, try using a vibrating toothbrush (the pressure from the bristles of the brush plus the vibration can really help to desensitize).
- Cut nails after bath-time when the nails are the softest (this will make them easier to cut). You can even try to cut them while your child is taking a bath.
- Press down gently on the center of each nail prior to clipping. This will temporarily reduce the sensitivity.
- Distraction. Cut nails while your child is watching a favorite TV show or movie.
- Depending on the age of your child and their fine motor/ grasping abilities, you may want to consider asking your child to cut their own fingernails. Sometimes being in control of the situation eases the sensory discomfort. Your child may become very upset when someone else is cutting their nails because they have absolutely no control over it, but be completely okay with doing it themselves. It’s worth giving it a shot…you may be surprised.
- Try not to cut the nail too short. Your child’s nail cutting issue may be more related to the sensation of the fingers AFTER nail cutting (the change in nail length can be a very bothersome, “annoying,” or even painful sensation)
- If your child is a very sound sleeper, you can try cutting nails at night while they are sleeping. Just use your judgement and caution with this because if your child wakes up during this, it could be very traumatizing for him/ her!!
*Please keep in mind that a child may not always have issues with nail cutting due to tactile sensitivities. It could be that he/she does not like the sound the clipper makes when it cuts the nail (the clicking noise). You may want to try letting your child listen to their favorite song on headphones during nail cutting or (as stated above) use baby scissors which produce no noise.
Best of luck! Hang in there and know it will get easier! If you have any thoughts or suggestions that have worked for your child that are not on the above list, please leave in the comments section below to help other parents going through the same challenges.
Author: Christina, OTR/L & Creator of Sensory TheraPLAY Box, LLC. (the monthly sensory toy box for children with autism and/ or sensory needs)
Additional posts you may find helpful: 20 Calming Strategies for Children: Managing Anxiety & Stress