We have no comprehension of it, but life before marriage and babies consists of one selfish act after the next. The most pressing matter in life is usually what to wear on Friday night or what topping to get on our pizza, or some such triviality. It’s such an utterly liberating, frivolous way to live – and no parent will ever appreciate what they had until it’s gone. (We’d never knowingly give that up, would we?) So frustrating; so never going to change.

And then the baby arrives, and everything changes. EVERYTHING.

Several months ago the dilemma I was facing seemed enormous: my daughter would not allow me anywhere near her nails to cut them. In hindsight, the disproportionate level of stress this induced seems a little crazy, but at the time it felt like a cataclysmic disaster: I couldn’t bear the thought of being that mum who cut her child with the clippers (there are a lot of horror stories, no?).

Initially I told myself it would just be a short phase and I’d cut them a few days later; then I realised the longer ones on her tiny toes were beginning to curl over and I had to find a way before they started to cause her pain. Of course, there’s such a thing as being ‘cruel to be kind’, and – yes – I could choose to overpower her and hold her down.

But that felt so wrong – I didn’t want to be that mother either. What on earth was I to do?


‘Tips’ for Cutting Your Baby’s Nails

I sought help and there was a lot of advice:

  • Bite them off;
  • Make it into a game: one of mine, one of teddy’s – one of hers;
  • When she’s in her highchair cut them under the tray so she can’t see;
  • Trim a couple each day until they’re all done;
  • Make it fun by giving her a ‘manicure’;
  • Do it in her sleep.

I tried them all; none of them worked. I was starting to panic.

In the event I did – of course – find an answer. And I want to share that with you today, in case you suffer the same fate with your contrary child. Do you recall The Magic Window? I based my solution on this concept…

As you’ll already be aware, Pixie naps in her pushchair. Every. Single. Day. This is both a blessing and a curse:

  • I can be anywhere and need only stick her in the pushchair and take her for a walk: blessing.
  • I can be anywhere and if I don’t have her pushchair with me, she ain’t napping: curse.
  • It doesn’t matter where we are, if she’s napping, she’s portable: blessing.
  • If she falls asleep in the car, she is very definitely not: curse. (Unless, of course, we make it to our destination within The Magic Window.)

Over the course of the previous few days I’d tried all of the above advice, but Pixie is not slow – in either sense of the word. I tried coaxing and bribing; I tried while she was napping (ruined that sleep, dammit); I tried when she was in actual bed at night – until I almost woke her up three times and lost my nerve.

In desperation I took her nail clippers out of the house when we went for our daily walk to get her to nap. (I also took my laptop in the hope of getting a little work done in the coffee shop in our local town. It sometimes works.) She fell asleep close to town and I debated stopping on the pavement to quickly deal with the matter at hand… And then I bottled it for fear of my daughter being removed from my care when the nice Doctors were called to take me away for being such a grim weirdo.

So, we continued our walk to the Costa, and I continued to frantically think up a way to get the job done quickly, but without an audience. And then I realised what I had to do…

Cut Baby Nails

When we arrived, we were (praise Mother Nature) still in the midst of The Magic Window. So I took Pixie into the disabled loo and painstakingly – silently – cut every one of her nails, as deftly and stealthily as possible (being very careful to avoid putting my bum too close to the hand dryer, lest its din ruin my good work). Those skills have never been so necessary or so appreciated.

Just call me Jedi Kate.

That Magic Window is life-changing. I urge you to make use of it while you still can. (Because I have a cold, creeping fear that in our house the end of the nap is nigh. And I dread that day almost as much as I dread opening the kitchen cupboard after a bad night with Pixie to find we’re out of coffee…)

I continued to use that method until something changed and Pixie relented: I’ve now cut all twenty of her nails, at home, with minimal fuss on two or three occasions. She’s growing up. Sob.

I’ve also painted her nails for her on one special morning (scroll to the top of the page for a glimpse). The occasion was that mummy desperately needed to get ready for a business meeting (which included painting my nails) before nanny arrived to take over childcare. Naturally, almost as though she could smell my rising anxiety levels as time ran away, Pixie became a limpet, refusing to allow me to finish my essential ablutions. So, against my better judgement, I allowed her to emulate mama and have coral toenails the same as mine. Yep, it looked garish on a 22 month old, but needs must.

For the foreseeable, ie. for as long as I can get away with it, we’re back to plain nail trimming. Here’s hoping Pixie’s fickle nature doesn’t extend to reversion to an irrational fear of the clippers – because if so, once the Magic Window ceases I will be in big trouble…

How did you overcome the nail-cutting dilemma with your little one? And what age do you think is acceptable for painting a toddler’s nails?


Newborns and babies, Parenting, Tips and Advice

An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is an experienced breastfeeding advocate, and expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.


  1. I wish I was liberated and frivolous Reply

    I feel the first paragraph of this piece is completely unrelated to the topic matter of the article, not only that, it is more than a little insulting to those of us who aren’t married with children, but what do I know; I’m just “moving from one selfish act to the next”.

    • Kate Tunstall Reply

      Oh dear… I merely meant selfish as in independent.

      As with the vast majority of my posts, this was written with tongue in cheek and a degree of cynicism.

      Apologies if I inadvertently caused offence. Thanks for your input! I hope I’ve not scared you away forever.

  2. Rebecca Taylor Reply

    Oh Kate. I can completely relate. Ernie has always been the same until the past two weeks. I’ve never cut them. I was always too terrified so hubby has always had to do it as he is much better at these things. It has always been a struggle though and I’ve always had to leave the room! Last week he let him do it without a fuss!
    It’s so bizarre how they just suddenly adapt. They certainly are growing up.
    I hope pixie continues to be okay with the clippers.
    Great article. Thank you for sharing xx

    • Kate Tunstall Reply

      I’m glad it’s not just me who has struggled – it was a genuine fear at one time! Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll soon be able to cut Ernie’s nails yourself! Xx

  3. I have absolutely ALWAYS struggled with this.
    My 2 year old hates it, and screams..therefore wriggles so I can’t do it.
    And my 1 year old is the wriggliest human being ever, so I can’t do it! BUT he does often fall asleep in the pushchair, so I may have to give it a go!

    • Kate Tunstall Reply

      It’s awful isn’t it! I’m so relieved that Pixie is good about me doing it now, otherwise I’d still be going for coffee to do it!

      Best of luck!

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