How to Cut Your Toddler’s Nails and Live to Tell The Tale


Toddlers are notoriously difficult to handle. They can be prone to tantrums and they don’t really understand why you want them to do what you say. Cutting toddler nails is no exception, with most toddlers hating the process from start to finish. Unfortunately for parents, toddler nails need cutting regularly or they might get ingrown or infected and that could lead to some serious problems down the line.

What exactly causes these reactions? What can we do about it? And how should we go about cutting toddler nails in a way that will make them less scared of the process? Let’s find out!

Why do toddlers hate getting their nails cut?

  • They don’t want to stay still. Successfully cutting your toddler’s nails means getting them to stay still. Why would your little one want to sit down in one spot when their favorite toys are just…over…there!
  • They don’t understand why. A toddler doesn’t necessarily know why we are cutting their nails, so they can think it’s a punishment for misbehaving or that your hurting them and not understanding what is happening to them.
  • They’re scared of getting hurt. You wouldn’t be the first parent to accidentally nick their toddler’s fingertips when trying to cut their nails. Especially with my firstborn, once he’d had an (albeit very minor) experience with a bit of blood, he was incredibly wary of nail clippers for maybe…18 months? Yeah….
  • It has been uncomfortable in the past. If you’ve not been using child clippers or small scissors to clip their nails, the process may flatten out their nails a bit more than is comfortable.
  • They want to hold the clippers or scissors. Toddlers are naturally curious, and as you might expect of a toddler who’s told not to touch something or else, they’ll grab for the clippers or scissors once they’re in your hand.

How to make cutting your toddler’s nails easier

Having a calm, successful nail-cutting session might seem like an impossible dream, but I’m telling you, it’s absolutely possible. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen.

Here are some tried and tested tips for making cutting your toddler’s nails easier on both you, and them!

  • Give them a sense of ownership and control. Give the clippers or scissors to your toddler before starting the process so that they have a chance to hold it themselves. Encourage them to have a go at cutting their own nails. (which is a double benefit – one less job for you!) Clippers are great because it takes a more specific intent to actually make the cut, so you may find they’re a safer bet for younger ones especially.
  • Try the ‘clip and pull’ method. This is where you clip off 50-70% of the nail, and your child pulls the rest of the nail off. This was a winner for both of my kids! Pro tip: set up the expectation early that sometimes it might not work, and the clipper might take off the whole nail early. I made this into a game, and my kids would wait with bated breath to see if they’d get to pull off the remainder or not. The bonus here was a very still child! Winning!
  • Use a different tool. If you’ve been using clippers to date, try scissors. You may even find they’re more receptive to a nail file, particularly if they’ve seen you using one. Where possible, use tools that are an appropriate size for little fingers. A pair of scissors or clippers with your toddler’s favorite character on them might also help, too!
  • Offer a reward. For toddlers, the promise of ice cream or an additional TV show after nail cutting can be incentive enough to get them to sit still for minutes at a time! I know it’s not ideal to be bribing our kids, but if you’re conscious of it, this early incentive will help familiarise them with the actual process of getting those nails cut, so their resistance to it will gradually subside.
  • Try cutting nails at bath time. I’ve heard that bath time can be a super successful strategy for some families because your child’s nails are softer – it might be a little more gentle on the nail bed when they get cut. If the water is still filling in the bath, you may also be able to use that sound to muffle the clipping noise, which could very well be the part of this whole process that upsets your child the most.
  • Explain why we cut our nails. I had good success with using examples of problems that longer nails can cause if I left it a week or so overdue before trying to do the trim. My kids would get dirt caught under them, or they’d accidentally stab themselves. (or their sibling!) Having them experience some of these things firsthand really helped justify why we should just get this trimming thing over and done with.
  • Cut their nails while they’re asleep. If you really can’t get them done during the day, it might be best for everyone if nails are cut while a certain little person is sleeping. I found this was the best bet around the 6-12 month mark when my kids weren’t old enough to have a proper discussion about it. (plus I really didn’t appreciate talons scraping across my boobs while feeding!)
  • Experiment with the way you hold their fingers and toes. It took a little while for me to find the right way (which was different for each child!) but when I worked out what was best, the resistance to getting nails cut dropped dramatically. For a while, I would have my kids sit on my lap facing away from me, and I wrapped my arms around them as they cut. This meant I was less likely to twist their hand in a weird or awkward way.

Your toddler’s nails will be trimmed, one way or another!

With any luck, one (or more!) of the above tips will mean your toddler can push past their resistance to getting their nails cut. (and you can stop fearing the process, too!) Maybe your child can do it themselves! Getting them used to nail cuts may take some time, but like with most of the things they’re going through, they’ll get used to it eventually. In the meantime, I wish you strength!

Have I missed any hot tips and hacks for getting toddler nails cut? Let me know in the comments!

Carly Wight

Mother of two young boys (6 and 3!) and an avid "Googler", Carly is the kind to research something to the nth degree. Be it about products, hacks, or techniques, she shares what she finds out at her website - Fairy Good Mommy.

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