Cutting a two-year-old’s toenails…

February 2, 2016

Since Oscar turned two in December, it has been impossible to cut his nails – especially his toenails. So much so that nowadays, whenever I read The Gruffalo to my son, I give him a pointed look when we get to the part about the ‘terrible claws’.

I used to cut all of Oscar’s nails relatively easily by distracting him with good old Peppa Pig and, more recently, episodes of Pocoyo. But lately, he’s been refusing to sit on my lap to watch TV, so whenever I drag him onto it he knows something is up and starts to squirm and howl ‘Noooooo!’ like a thwarted villain in Scooby Doo.

Cutting toddlers' toenails |

I’ve tried everything to prevent his nails from becoming a public health issue: massaging Oscar’s feet as we watch telly and then stealthily going in with the clippers (useless): telling him his long nails are making mummy sad and that cutting them would make mummy very happy (weakens his defences but gives me no clear access to the nails); and trying to both pin him down and calm him down at the same time as I try to connect blade with nail, not skin (traumatic, futile and counter-productive). Now that a combination of all my toenail-cutting trial and error seems to be bearing fruit, I thought I would share my approach.

First, like an athlete preparing for a long-distance event, I warm us both up. The night before my ‘attack’, when he is having his bath, I nonchalantly suggest that I cut my toenails. I make soothing pleasure noises during this event to emphasise what he’s missing – as if I were eating a gooey chocolate fondant rather than just cutting my nails. I even try asking him to choose which toenail I should clip next (a tip I picked up from this Mumsnet thread on the subject), but so far Oscar refuses to get involved – he just waves my foot away.

The next day, I prepare myself mentally for the task ahead – this is all about PMA, guys. Because my personality lies at the extreme end of the starter-finisher spectrum, the idea of only cutting one or two of Oscar’s nails at a time is psychological torture to me, but something I must accept for the time being. So, during the day, I keep the scissors within reaching distance, and whenever there’s a lull in the action, or Oscar asks to watch TV, I suggest a bit of nail-bothering. I try to strike a deal – one episode of Peppa equals five nails – and I pause the action if he starts reneging on his side of the bargain before I’ve even begun. Usually, we get a couple of nails done this way before we both give up.

The next stage of the operation takes place when Oscar asks if he can jump on my bed (this happens every day).

‘Oh no,’ I say, ‘I don’t think so.’

‘Jump bed! Jump bed! Four more monkeys!’ he shouts.

‘OK,’ I say. ‘If you let me cut one toenail, I’ll let you jump on the bed. And if you let me cut five toenails, I’ll let you bounce 10 times!

At this point I take a two-pronged approach, chucking my iPhone onto the bed for the purposes of further distraction. Usually, he dives for it, which gives me a clear minute before the phone is expertly disabled and Oscar returns his attention to me and his toenails. While he’s lying face down, I bend one of his legs to access the nails, which sort of immobilises him (or at least makes it less easy for him to kick me). Then I start singing ‘Tommy Thumb’ (because the word ‘thumb’ currently makes him giggle) or ‘This Little Piggy Went to Market’ (because he likes to say ‘wee wee wee’ at the relevant point). If I’m lucky, I can get three or four nails done this way – and on good days, a whole foot.

However much progress we make, I initiate a massive celebration akin to a footballer scoring the goal of his career – I praise my son’s courage, mummy’s speed, how quick and painless the process was (ha!) and underline how happy we all are. Then I let him have a lengthy bounce on the bed. I also ask him to put his own sock back on – to signal that that foot is over and done with, and that he is, in my eyes, A Very Big Boy. (Of course, he doesn’t really get the sock anywhere near his foot, but he likes to think he can do it.)

We repeat this process ad nauseam until all of the toenails have been tamed (my record so far is 25 minutes, but it has taken as long as three days). And when daddy comes home, it is the first thing we (I) breathlessly tell him about our day.

Cutting toddlers' toenails |

So, for now, I’ve (ahem) nailed it. But I’m aware that I’m on borrowed time and that at some point Oscar will start to reject this patented approach as well. That’s why I need tried-and-tested ideas and nougats of wisdom from the more experienced mums out there. A quick Google showed me that this problem is really common – other ideas I’ve yet to experiment with include asking Oscar to help me to cut his nails, offering to paint his nails in return for a trim, and giving up and just filing them (this will be my last resort, because, weirdly, the feeling of nail against emery board makes me wince as much as the sound of nails scraping down a blackboard).

Have you tried any of the above? What are your tips for successfully cutting your toddler’s nails? And please tell me when this phase will end!

P.S. Potty-training a toddler by the age of two, quick and easy dinners for babies, and tasteful ways to store kids’ toys.

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    Reply Lizzie Woodman February 2, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    I’d love to tell you it got easier, but I’d be lying!! It is true that some children are easier than others. My youngest (5) is quite tactile and has always enjoyed the fuss of it. My eldest (nearly 7) still detests it and makes a terrible fuss of squirming and shrieking. Apparently my older sister and I were the same. Clearly they must grow out of it at some point though as I’m pretty sure my sister cuts her toenails now…

    • Reply Nicky February 4, 2016 at 9:50 pm

      Ha ha – that’s what I tell myself about every stage my son goes through! I hope this passes, as he’s getting stronger every day, so not sure I will be able to wrestle with him quite so effectively when he’s 5 or 7! Thanks for your comment x

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