The Nail Biter, Episode IV: The Jealous Fingernails

Three weeks later, Natalie reported that her teacher was nicer to the class.  She even brought candy on Friday as a reward for her students’ improved behavior.  Natalie said that her nail biting had improved somewhat, but that she still bit her nails while she watched television or had nothing better to do.
“Do you want to learn how to help your nails become longer and happier?” I asked.
“Uh huh.”
“I will teach you two tricks for that,” I said.
“First, do you like nail polish?”
“Then, you should go with your mom and buy your favorite nail polish. Then, you get to choose your most favorite fingernail, and tell her that you will give her a special present.  She will get very excited and then you can show her the nail polish you got for her.  Go ahead and give her the polish.  Tell her to take special care of it, and to grow long so she can have more nail polish in a few days.  Now, the other fingers may get jealous, but don’t give them any nail polish right away.  Tell them that once they grow longer, they can have some beautiful nail polish too.  I bet that some of the fingers may even compete with each other to find out who can earn nail polish first.   Which finger do you think will get nail polish first?”
Natalie held up her left index finger.
“Congratulations, pointer finger!”  I exclaimed.
Natalie beamed.
“I have one more idea for you,” I added.
“Your hands also want to help you because they enjoy seeing beautiful nails.  And I will tell you how the hands can help.  If your right-hand notices that your left hand is heading towards your mouth, all it needs to do is to gently grab the left wrist and lower it.”  I demonstrated doing so with my hands.  “And if your left-hand notices that your right hand is heading towards your mouth, it can help lower it too.  Can you show me how your hands would do that?”
Natalie demonstrated that she understood how to use that technique.
“Great job, hands!” I said.
A month later, Natalie happily showed me the nail polish on all of her fingers.  “I don’t chew my nails anymore!” she exclaimed.
“How did you do that?”  I asked.
“I told my fingers that they could look real pretty, and they all listened!”
“That’s great.  You really are the boss of your body!”
An essential lesson from this nail-biting saga is that it is important to address the reasons for a behavior before working on resolving the problem.  In Natalie’s case if I had taught her how to beautify her nails as a first step, she may not have stopped her habit because she did not have other tools to deal with her fears and her anxiety about dealing with her teacher.