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  • How to Know if Your Child's Hair Pulling Could Be Trichotillomania

    Here are some things you can do to help your child kick the painful-looking habit of hair pulling.
    by Kate Borbon .
How to Know if Your Child's Hair Pulling Could Be Trichotillomania
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Babies develop a variety of habits that adults might not understand. These might include one that can look quite painful and distressing for a parent: pulling out their own hair.

    Why does hair pulling happen with kids

    Trying to pull out their hair is a habit babies will stop doing eventually. They do it when they realize it gets your attention. According to Trich Stop, hair pulling can be a behavior young children do when they are throwing a tantrum, along with screaming and kicking.

    It is also possible that a baby’s hair pulling is her way of coping with stress or exhaustion. According to Babies.co, when babies, typically those who are under a year old, pull on their hair, it can mean that they are feeling irritated, tired, or upset. “It might seem a strange reaction to stressful situations, but it is an attempt to feel in control of the situation around them.”

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    Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, a pediatrician and the author and creator of Pediatrician in Your Pocket, also tells Romper that for some babies, hair pulling can “continue and become a comforting way to calm or self-soothe, especially when baby is overtired, upset, hungry, or even bored.”

    Trich Stop says for children between the ages 1 month and 2 years old, hair pulling can come alongside thumb-sucking. “The baby reclines with thumb or fingers in the mouth and twists his/her own or his mother’s hair with the other hand. The child finds this relaxing and usually engages in the behavior before falling asleep or when he/she is distressed.”

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    When hair pulling is a sign of a more serious condition

    In some situations, a baby’s hair pulling might be a sign that she is suffering from a more serious condition called trichotillomania. Trich Stop describes this as “a condition that describes young children and adolescents who pull out the hair from their scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, or other parts of the body, resulting in noticeable bald patches.”

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    The typical onset of trichotillomania is between ages 9 and 13 years, but it can also happen to much younger children.

    While the symptoms of this condition can vary greatly depending on severity, the part of the body that is affected, and how the patient responds to treatment, there are signs that concerned parents can look out for, according to the Child Mind Institute, such as “rapid or asymmetrical hair loss, hair on the floor and pillows, and having hands constantly near the head.” Others include wearing hats and other items to cover the head and checking her reflection often, particularly for older children.

    How to stop your child’s hair-pulling habit

    Trichotillomania is a condition that requires medical attention although Child Mind Institute notes, it is much more difficult to diagnose in younger children. Trichotillomania is primarily treated through a behavioral therapy technique called cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which allows the child to become more aware of her hair pulling. A form of CBT called habit reversal therapy, meanwhile, is used to teach the child to recognize emotions and triggers that are involved in the hair pulling. You need to consult your pediatrician to know the therapy your child will need. 

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    For parents of babies, toddlers and even preschoolers, here are some things you can do to help your child kick this painful-looking habit as early as you can.

    Be observant

    It can be hard not to act right away when you see your child pulling on her hair, but BabyCenter advises parents to try to do nothing for a while and just observe their child for around one to two weeks. Does she do it when she is bored, frustrated, throwing a tantrum, or feeling sleepy? Does she tend to pull her hair when she is nursing or lying down in her crib? Any patterns to your child’s hair-pulling behavior can serve as helpful information in case you might need to have a conversation with a medical professional. Remember, your child can eventually grow out of hair pulling, but it is best to consult a dorctor.

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    Make lifestyle changes

    If you notice your baby starts pulling her hair near at night, you might need to adjust her bedtime routine and make it earlier. She could be too tired from the day, so that means not scheduling high-energy activities late in the afternoon. If you notice that she pulls her hair when she is upset, try to give her a hug without forcibly removing her hand from her hair. She might need soothing first. 

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    Keep calm and be firm

    Because hair pulling can also be a child’s way to get her parent’s attention, What to Expect advises moms and dads to try to avoid giving their child the reaction that she may be looking for. If you react each time, she might keep doing it again and again. But if you show her that what she is doing is not working on you, she will eventually understand and let go of the habit.

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    It is also essential to gentle but be firm in saying “no” every time your child pulls on her hair. Accompany it with an action such as gently taking the hair out of her hands. This way, she can learn that hair pulling signals to mommy that something might be wrong, and mommy wants to know how she can help. Be consistent and show you disapprove of the action but it does not mean you dismiss what she is feeling. You do not want reprimand your baby, not only because she is likely too young to understand what is going on but also because doing so might just end up causing her to get all the more stressed out.

    Distract your child

    Distraction is another great way to help your child kick the habit. When she starts pulling her hair, try to divert her attention by giving her a fun, colorful toy or encouraging her to join you in another activity, like singing or playing a game.

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    Give your child a haircut

    Another reason why your baby keeps pulling her hair might be the fact that her hair is quite long and easy for her to grasp with her little hands. Giving your little one a haircut until her hair is too short for her to grab hold of can make it less appealing for her to pull on her hair. If you can’t bring yourself to cut your baby’s hair, you can try putting her hair in a ponytail instead. Just remember not to make it too tight because this can damage your child’s luscious locks!

    Consult your pediatrician

    If your baby’s hair-pulling habit continues on for more than a couple of weeks or your child actually got bald spot, it is time to call your child’s pediatrician for help as these can be indications of a more serious underlying condition, such as trichotillomania.

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