Yes. I think you should. I can’t venture a diagnosis on the basis of your letter since the same behaviors can be rooted in very different things. It could be that your son is by temperament an anxious child. It could be that he is picking up on your anxiety about his anxiety and that is making him even more anxious. It’s unusual but not unheard of for a child this young to show the beginnings of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Or it may be something entirely different. Regardless, one way to manage stress for your son as well as you and your husband is to seek out more information. It’s often a great relief to simply know what we’re dealing with.
According to the Share Care website, Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD, says, “It can be difficult to coax a child to drop a habit like picking her nails. Sometimes kids abandon such habits on their own, but if you feel it’s time to put an end to the nail-picking, here are some tips:
Explain gently why you don’t like the habit, but don’t repeatedly criticize your child. This may only exacerbate the unwanted behavior.
Encourage your child to play an active role in breaking the habit. Make it something that you work on together, as a team.
Suggest a replacement for the habit — perhaps something unobtrusive the child can do with her fingers instead of picking them.
Reward your child when she shows signs of breaking the habit.
Be patient. Breaking a habit often takes a good deal of time!”
Equally important, a good diagnosis gives us a direction for correcting the situation. I encourage you to ask your pediatrician for a referral to an experienced child psychologist and take your son for an evaluation.
I wish you well.
This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on September 17, 2007.