Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Help a Mom: Cutting toenails, other things kids hate

Posted May 9, 2010
Updated May 31, 2010

Every once in a while I get questions from readers about parenting issues. And sometimes I pose them here in an occasional series that I like to call Help a Mom.

This one came from a mom, who had originally posted the question in an unrelated post.

She has trouble getting her son to sit still to cut his toenails. I think a solution to this might extend to other unsavory tasks (at least in the eyes of kids) like applying sunscreen and brushing teeth.

Here's what she wrote:

Here's my problem: I spent 45 minutes or so this morning, off and on, trying to clip my almost-4-year-old's toe nails. Howls, wails, cringing, hiding his feet from me - all typical toe-nail-clipping-day behaviors. HOW in the world do I make this a fear-free, quick hygiene routine? I've tried rewards ("one little marshmallow for every toe!" I brightly coax with a winning smile on my face) and, though they eventually work, they only work after about 45 minutes, and he's still scared to death of the prospect. I hold his foot gently, I refuse to hold him down - I have memories of that from childhood (not related to toenail clipping, in case you're thinking, "Aha! She's passed along her fear!") and I just won't put him in that powerless-feeling situation. HELP!

Sounds like she needs help. Any advice out there?


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  • robinfowler2 May 12, 2010

    Thanks to all of you for your helpful comments! Will responds very well to the 10 minutes, 5 minutes warnings with transitions and other matters. I'll try that next time. I also appreciate the suggestion to make it part of a routine on a particular night of the week. The comments about sensory challenges are thought-provoking. I've wondered off and on about sensory/sensitivity issues. Keep 'em coming, and thanks again for taking time to offer advice.

  • jrwachholz May 12, 2010

    I also cut my 19 month old daughter's nails in the car seat while we are going somewhere. She is a captive audience and so it is much easier. Even better if she is asleep.

  • mwilliams1 May 11, 2010

    I cut my little girls toe nails in the car seat at daycare before going in. She can't get away,so she doesn't fight much!

  • leeandkaren2 May 10, 2010

    I wonder if there are sensory issues since you also mention apply lotion and teeth brushing. My son really struggled with these issues and an OT helped us with desensitizing. Perhaps, he is not struggling with this, but just a thought. My son at age five was able to work his way up to cutting his own nails once we figured out the overall issue we were dealing with. Now no bribes or threats or consequences needed. He does it on his own now sometimes before we even notice they need a trim.

  • kittiboo May 10, 2010

    I've done the nighttime, flashlight-assisted clipping. Now my daughter is pretty good with it as long as she gets to watch me. If I try to ambush her it is a fight.

  • AMHall82 May 10, 2010

    Counting works for us - but, my son is only 15 months old. "Four more piggies" or "Two more snips". He's intrigued as I do the "count down." I don't have any experience with an older child.

  • scarletindurham May 10, 2010

    I have a girl, and she will let me clip them if I paint them with nailpolish after. Not sure for a boy though!

  • kjackson2 May 10, 2010

    I would cut my daughters fingernails and toenails when she would sleep at night and tell her that the Nail Fairy cut them when she was sleeping.

  • heavl001 May 10, 2010

    I do this while they sleep.

  • Killian May 10, 2010

    I think all4beachtime and kidsnbooks both have excellent suggestions. But truthfully? Unless he has a -reason- to be fearful, like you've cut him before, part of this is a control issue. He's decided that he doesn't want it, and you're catering to it instead of being the adult. No, he doesn't "like it" but keeping toenails trimmed is part of basic hygiene and he does need to learn that until he can do it safely and properly by himself, that you're going to do it.

    We didn't strait-jacket our kids, either. However, we gave them a 10min and a 5min warning that we were doing toenails, and it was part of the routine on Sunday evenings after bath time. There was no bribing or coaxing, though. At the end of the alloted time, we sat the kid on our lap, secured their foot gently but firmly, and clipped them.

    And yes, I will be honest - when they said they were scared of getting cut, we flat out told them that when they move around, that's when that happens. They learned to chill.