10 Nail-Trimming Tips for Parents of Children With Sensory Sensitivities

If your child is on the autism spectrum or has sensory processing issues or sensitivities, nail trimming can be a stressful situation for the both of you. You are not alone, and there are some tips that may help make life a little easier and lessen the stress. These are my tips for nail trimming as an occupational therapist who works with the pediatric population.

Please keep in mind every child is unique, and what may work for one child may not work for another. Also, a certain method that works for a child one day may not work for that same child the next day.

1. 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).

2. 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 can take longer, but if your child is tolerant of the file versus the clippers, it might be a lot less stressful for the both of you.

3. Before nail cutting, ask if your child wants to squeeze putty, play-dough, or a stress-ball. The heavy work/deep pressure input might help to reduce your child’s tactile sensitivity.

4. Having your child hold a vibrating toy in his/her hands prior to or during nail clipping might help. The vibration is meant to help “desensitize” the area prior to nail clipping in the hope that it isn’t as bothersome. Another option is to “brush” each nail with a toothbrush prior to clipping each nail. Using a vibrating toothbrush combines both of these methods.

5. Consider cutting nails after bath-time when the nails are the softest (this can make them easier to cut).

6. Another option is pressing down gently on the center of each nail prior to clipping. This might help temporarily reduce the sensitivity.

7. It might be easier for your child if you cut his or her nails while he or she is watching a favorite TV show or movie.

8. 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 upset when someone else is cutting their nails because they have absolutely no control over it, but be completely OK with doing it themselves.

9. 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 bothersome, “annoying,” or even painful sensation).

10. 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.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions that have worked for your child that are not on the above list, please leave them in the comments section below to help other parents going through the same challenges.

Christina is an OTR/L and owner of Sensory TheraPLAY Box, LLC, the monthly sensory toy box for children with autism and/or sensory needs.

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