Nail Cutting Refusal

by Beth
(Houston, TX)

Do you have any suggestions for helping an 8 yr old to let me (he refuses to do it himself or try) cut his nails, or any activity to do first? Or, do I give up and let them just grow until they break? I am at my wits end with this! He completely refuses and I cannot force him.


Help?

The SPD Help Line Answers


My first questions for you, before I answer, are:

Has your son been officially diagnosed with SPD? Tactile Defensiveness? If he has, is he in OT? Have you done The Wilbarger Brushing Protocol with him?

If you think this is an isolated defensiveness issue, can you make sure he does not show other significant signs of tactile defensiveness? If he does show other signs, the first step would be to get him an OT evaluation for SPD. You can find out more about this in the following 2 articles:

  • Sensory Integrative OT... What You Need To Know Before Starting


  • The Step-By-Step Guide For SPD Parents


  • For the sake of answering your question, I will assume he does indeed have tactile defensiveness (hypersensitivity to touch). Besides doing the brushing protocol (only if taught to you and monitored by an OT), there are several things you can try.

    Here's what I suggest:

    1. Use baby nail clippers. They are easier on the nails and are better at not cutting too far down. They are much more comfortable. (My daughter still uses them at 12!)

    2. Cut nails fresh out of the shower or bath, when they are softest. Or soak hands first with some good calming aromatherapy oils (lavender or vanilla?) and water.

    3. Do some deep pressure, proprioceptive, and/or heavy work activities prior to cutting his nails, to help decrease overall sensitivities.

    4. Use a massager/vibration on his hands prior to cutting his nails.

    5. If he is a sound sleeper, cut a few every night while he sleeps.


    Let us know if any of this helps and/or the answers to my questions, so I may be able to help you further. (You can respond in the comments box below.)

    Comments for Nail Cutting Refusal

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    Mar 03, 2016
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    Nail Clipping
    by: bemommy

    Nail clipping for our autistic son has been horrible for years. He has always loved water and it relaxes him so I recently started clipping his nails (feet and hands) while he was in the bath. We have not had a problem since. Not only are his nails softer, he's relaxed in warm water and he has a mirror (small bathtub/shower type) he can make faces in or 'covertly' watch me without watching the nail clipping directly. This combination has been a miracle for us. I hope this helps. We've tried all sorts of options and this is the only one that has worked for us.

    Feb 28, 2016
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    ...getting easier
    by: Allison

    Good question.. any girls with this issue?

    Now my son is 11, and we have gone through different "ways" to get his nailed trimmed. He still won't do it himself, and I ultimately have to instigate it.

    The good news is that with age it has become easier ( for us both!). He understands that it needs to be cut, and just yesterday he asked me to cut them.

    The fact remains that he suffers from the act of cutting nails and the after effects of cut nails (up to a few days afterwards). This hasn't changed since he was a baby. Now we choose good times to do it (just before leaving for school or starting his day--never before bed..where his nails will touch the bed linen).

    I use curved nail cutting scissors, as he hates the clicking sounds of clippers.

    When he was younger I did my best to cut his nails while he was asleep (always I warned him, and got his permission). This didn't always work, but when it did, my son was the happiest.

    take care, and at least for us the whole process is getting easier.
    Allison


    Feb 25, 2016
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    is it strictly male related
    by: Anonymous

    My son is the same. He's 8 and refuses to cut his nails. It's a kick fight and a struggle. He says it hurts.

    Is this strictly a male thing? I noticed that everyone suffering from Y his is male. Or the vast majority are male.

    Jan 13, 2016
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    Me too!
    by: Anonymous

    I also get the horrible sensation in my nails when I cute them! Thought I was the only one. I am 19 years old now, and still suffer from it. Toe nail cutting is the worst as putting socks on after is pure torture!

    If anybody has any solutions to this I would be extremely grateful. At the moment I trim my nails slightly about once a week, the sensation is still there but it only lasts for about a day this way.

    So happy to find others like me, thought I was crazy!

    Sep 03, 2015
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    22 and still have this problem
    by: Anonymous

    I have had this problem with cutting nails as far back as I can remember. I just cut my nails today and I had to look it up because I was curious. It's funny, I can relate to 90% of the posts on here! After I cut my nails sometimes I put my thumb underneath my other fingers and make my hand into a fist so that I don't feel that nasty sensation. I also try to cut my nails weekly but not too short so it never bothers me too much.

    Sep 01, 2015
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    SPD
    by: cathy

    My grandson has had a issue with this problem for years. He is 15 now and cutting his nails still makes him weird out.And that not the only thing he hates the feel of certain materials. Trying to find him a coat for the winter is a nightmare.because most coats are lined with silky material and he can't stand it.For the summer all he well wear is cotton and most boys and men's summer wear is made of that silky material. It's been a real nightmare. But I couldn't understand what was going on with him and now I know .

    May 17, 2015
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    Squeez hands into fists
    by: Lisa

    My son has sensory issues and cutting nails is a nightmare. We started asking him to squeeze his hands together and look away while another person cuts the toe nails. It works! He is distracted and cannot feel us cutting his toenails since he is focus on squeezing his hands into fists.

    May 17, 2015
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    My own experience
    by: Anonymous

    I am a 20 year old male and l have struggled with nail cutting for as long as I remember. Recently, I bought a finger nail clipper with a straight cutting head instead of the normal curved version. It has been a lot better cutting my fingernails since then and I strongly recommend it. I also find running my fingers under cold water with my nails point upwards to help with discomfort after cutting them.

    Dec 29, 2014
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    Nail polish
    by: Anonymous

    We use a swipe of nail polish on the tips of each finger AFTER cutting. This seems to dull the unpleasant sensations.

    Oct 25, 2014
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    nail cutting sensitivity
    by: Allison

    Hi Amy and all readers
    my son is comforted by knowing he isn't alone with this. THANKS so much for sharing.

    BTW since i first posted we found a way to cut his nails with the least amount of stress and pain. We do it now while he is asleep.

    Since he plays piano...and classmates are ready to comment on the long..unkept nails...I try to do this once a week. I never cut too short. ..and I always warn him I will do it...He has some discomfort in the morning..but bearable.. he prefers this to all orher methods.

    I find him less and less 'autistic' ...I would call him an 'engineering type'.

    Cheers
    Allison

    Oct 22, 2014
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    nail issues
    by: Amy

    Hi! I'm 32 and don't really have any issues with other sensory things or Autism or anything. I like to think I'm fairly normal. Lol

    But i have always had an issue with cutting nails short. Just like others have said on here, the tips of my fingers get super sensitive after cutting my nails. It's a weird feeling, like nails on a chalkboard or something, but it's a constant sensation like that for a few days after i cut my nails too short. The worst thing to touch in those few days for me is anything powdery. I used to work at a Mexican restaurant where I had to handle flour tortillas with lots of flour residue all over them every day. That was pretty much hell. That flour just got under my super short nails and made that skin feel so cringey. Lol i know that's not a word, but i don't know how else to describe it. I wished i could have a bowl of water sitting there next to me to get that residue off my fingertips or something. I agree with those people who said they just want to keep their fingertips up in the air for days. You really don't want to touch anything.

    I'm just super glad I'm not the only one out there with this ridiculous problem.
    If your child doesn't like getting the nails cut, try not going so short, it isn't hardly a problem at all if i leave enough white to actually meet the tip of my finger.
    This is a legitimate problem, so even if you cannot imagine what i am describing, try to give a child the benefit of the doubt. The actual cutting may not be their issue. It could be the sensitivity of the surrounding skin afterword.
    Just glad i found this meeting of fellow weirdos like me!
    Amy

    Sep 16, 2013
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    Deb
    by: Anonymous

    It sounds like he has always had the problem but perhaps being younger he didn't know how to communicate the issue fully (as Allison has said). Chances are he's also become more aware of it with age.

    Last night I cut my toenails and had to put socks on after, which was horrible :). The inside of the socks kept getting caught on the end of the nail which I can't stand lol. I'm 26 now and still suffer with it.

    I'm not going to lie to you, if his nails are long, kids will pick up on that. I was bullied for it but it was worth it. The bath method did help me, I personally rather have my nails cut more often than cut really short. The shorter the greater the sensation. Finding a balance of length and frequency is important. Perhaps you could use psychology on him and convince him to have them cut a little bit once a week (so they're not too short). Perhaps a hot bath on Sunday evening then a little trim when the nails are soft and the fingertips are less sensitive.

    I should also note that I was a very happy baby and still am now (happy that is, not a baby lol)

    All the best

    Jack

    Aug 05, 2013
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    delayed response
    by: Allison

    hi...did you ask him...perhaps it always bothered him...but was not voicing it, or defining it. When my son was really small...he seemed like nothing bothered him...cold, hot, nail clipping. . However he looked miserable, generally unhappy as a baby.

    Aug 04, 2013
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    Nice to know others
    by: Deb

    My son never liked his nails clipped when he was younger, but would cooperate, until a few years ago. He is 12 now and they seemed to be getting longer and longer between trimmings. I am concerned about peers making fun of him. He says that the fingertips are extremely sensitive. He walks around with them up like many have described and complains for several days. I am beginning to wonder if he has SPD, but why would it just show up when he is about9 years old?

    Apr 09, 2013
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    That's good
    by: Jack

    Allison

    Glad the bath helped a little. I'm not surprised he chose the little finger as that's the least sensitive as it has the smallest nail and finger tip (I guess you're American or from somewhere else as we say little finger not pinkie in England :))

    I can understand not wanting to touch anything after having his nails cut but certainly not material like wool or cotton. All things that touch cut nails give the same horrible sensation, but anything where fluff can come off the clothing and get stuck to freshly cut nails is much worse. I'm not sure why exactly, maybe it's the fact that once it's caught on a nail it has to be removed (which means touching the nail and the tip of the finger/toe). Anyway the thought of touching something like wool or another fuzzy material is horrible.

    The walking around like his nails are painted is just to minimise contact with his nails. If his fingers are all apart there's no chance one fingernail will touch another finger.

    Although I talk a lot about the nails, it's more the tips of the toes and fingers that bring on the sensation. The nails are also sensitive to touch but its mainly the skin (and of course the sensations only happen when the nails are cut).

    It is nice to talk to you about this and I'm glad you've responded, I've just noticed that as I type and explain things I bite my bottom lip just from the thought of having my nails cut or touching fuzzy fabric.

    All the best to you and your family

    Jack

    Apr 04, 2013
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    it went okay
    by: Allison

    Hi Jack, I told him about you and that he doesn't suffer alone. He was really interested. We only cut the pinkie fingernails on both hands (he got to choose which finger), and afterwards he still held it out like he had his fingers painted.

    We talked about all kinds of sensitivities, and he likes to hear what I am sensitive about, and what everyone else is sensitive about (I suppose it is much nicer to not be alone).

    About how he felt after the nail cutting...he said that he doesn't like to touch anything of cloth or fuzzy material afterwards. He didn't mention that it is painful, just a terrible sensation. He did say that it is a little better after the bath. cheers,
    Allison

    Apr 03, 2013
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    You're welcome Allison
    by: Jack

    Hi Allison

    Glad I could help. I assume he suffers with the same thing I do. I'm sorry he suffers with it and I wish he didn't, but I'm glad I'm not alone. I've never known anyone to have the same problem as me and you should know that it does get better (I still suffer with it but its not as bad as it was when I was a child). I still bite my bottom lip at the thought of having my nails cut.

    How did cutting them after a hot bath go? The obvious tip I can give is to not touch the nails or skin on the end of the toes/fingers after cutting. My mum's natural instinct after cutting them would be to run her finger along the ends to brush away any loose bits, which is the worst thing for me (she would stop herself from doing it though) Try to make him comfortable and aware that you aren't going to touch the ends of his toes/fingers after his nails are cut.

    Has he actually told you what he doesn't like about having his nails cut? I'm quite interested to know what causes the sensations I get and found this site after searching about it

    All the best

    Jack

    Apr 03, 2013
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    thanks Jack
    by: Allison

    Jack,
    thanks for responding, it means a lot to hear what he is feeling coming from someone with first hand experience. His father and I seem to be lost when it comes to Marc's reactions. Not always sure what to do.

    When he was younger I was a lot tougher, as I thought I was perhaps spoiling him too much, and thought tough love was the answer. Now we come to a common agreement on the approach...which drags it out to a week plan... but we all seem happier in the end.

    Having said that...he needs another round of nail cutting.. so.. i'll wait until after bath before attempting.

    Allison

    Apr 02, 2013
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    All my life Allison
    by: Jack

    Allison

    I have no idea what this site is about but would like to say that I'm a 25 year old guy and I've suffered with what you've described all my life. After having my finger or toenails cut I can't touch anything without sending shivers down my spine and making my teeth go on edge. It's the same sensation people get when they hear nails on a chalkboard or the biting of a towel or napkin. Some people get the sensation when they hear a knife and fork on a plate or see someone playing with polystyrene. Right after my nails are cut I walk around like my finger and toenails have been painted. I can't stand them being touched for days after. Hate wearing socks, going to bed (as the sheets/quilt rubs my toenails), can't hold anything or hardly do anything for 2 or 3 days after. The worst is having them cut really short as the sensations are stronger and last for longer.

    I hope this helps you understand your child's feelings. When I was a child my parents had to physically restrain me to cut my toe and fingernails. They'd sit on me and cut them, as its the only way they could do it. I'd scream and cry and then spend a few days walking round the house like an idiot, picking up things with the palms of my hands. I know what my parents did sounds extreme but it was the only way and I'm glad they did it.

    Try to make sure he cuts then when he gets older, I was severely bullied at school for having longer than average nails. The best time to cut then is after a hot bath when they're soft and the sensation afterwards is less intense (but still horrible, imagine someone following you around for 3 days scraping their nails down a blackboard or chewing on a towel or biting into a chunk of polystyrene)

    Kind regards

    Jack

    Mar 30, 2013
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    one at at time
    by: Allison

    Hi, I thought my child was the only one who suffers to get his fingernails clipped. He complains he can't touch anything afterwards, especially clothing, or his stuffed animal. Even putting on his coat or zipping his zipper is an ordeal for a few days afterwards. We tried filing, but he still complains, there is little difference to him in the sensations of the change of shorter nails. If we are organized well, we try to do a week plan.. that is two fingernails a day-one on each hand... he seems to cope best that way. We always do it in the morning before going to school, as his mind is preoccupied by other things and he is less distressed. We never do this before going to bed, as he can lie in bed and remorse for much longer, keeping everyone awake--which makes the next day dreadful.

    He is 8 now, and I see his suffering hasn't changed, however he is now very vocal about it and can explain what he feels. After clipping, he holds his hands like one who got his nails painted.. in the air, spread..it can last for as I said.. 2 days. Now we just see the humor in it, as does he.

    We live in the Netherlands, and there is no such diagnosis here. They say he has a slight PDD-NOS, and that is the end of it. We have found our own therapies for him without professional help. He sensitivites hasn't changed, but I see that he deals with them much better now--sometimes sad that he feels more than others, but in general we can talk about it, find ways to better it, and in some cases just accepting it makes it all good in the end.

    Sep 21, 2009
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    Nails
    by: Anonymous

    I use a nail file to do my son's nails

    Jan 02, 2008
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    Thanks, will try the sucker idea
    by: Anonymous

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, he is in OT twice a week, which helps with other issues - just not the nails. I will try the sucker idea. We tried tv but he still got distracted by me even holding his hand. I even offered him to learn to do his own (he is 8 yrs). Will keep at it! Again, thanks for your suggestions.
    Beth

    Dec 28, 2007
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    Distract him!!
    by: Anonymous

    My son has a hard time with the nails as well. But mostly he was terrible with haircuts. It didn't work every time, but letting him watch his favorite movie while doing unpleasant grooming tasks usually helps. Or give him a sucker to hold with one hand while you clip the other. And hope that he'll be so excited by the unexpected gift of candy that he's not paying so much attention to what you're doing to his fingernails! My son is very soothed by singing, so that could help too. Of course, there have been times when I just had to hold the poor boy down and just take care of it as quickly as possible! Hope this helps a little.
    Jessi

    P.S. - Like Michele asked, is he in OT? Because my son's nail clipping and hair cutting issues are unbelievably better since he's been in OT. It's absolutely amazing!

    Nov 12, 2007
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    Nail cutting inquiry
    by: Beth

    Thank you for your swift response. Yes, my son has been diagnosed with SPD two years ago and has been in OT for two years - I should have mentioned. OT suggested heavy work activities prior to this task but he often refuses. I spoke with them today and we will try on the weekend earlier in the day after some activity. Also, I love the massager/vibration idea. He got very angry with me upon learning that I had cut his nails while sleeping so I will have to discuss this option with him as I feel it is a trust issue. I will try your ideas and appreciate your feedback!
    Thanks again!

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