What To Do When Your Child Pulls Their Own Hair

Pulling their own hair can be mild and transient in some children. This is often related to self-soothing, and seen as being similar to head banging, thumb sucking, hair twirling or body rocking. When it is this, parents may look for patterns such as pulling when they are bored, lonely, excited or when they are falling asleep. If this is the case, it may be best to help them learn new ways to sooth or cope. It may help for parents to rub their child’s back at bedtime or run fingers through their child’s hair. If it’s particularly problematic at bedtime, it may be helpful for a child to wear mittens to bed. When it is self soothing in infants and toddlers, it may stop within a few months with little intervention. When it is mild, parents may ignore the behavior or address with very little emotion and with positive directions and gentle reminders such as “hands down.” Parents may also give incompatible behaviors in the moment such as small stickers, crayons and paper or things to carry. Parents may also make it less pleasurable by keeping a child’s hair very short or under a hat.

When this behavior is longer lasting or seen in older children, it can be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety. This may be in the category of behaviors called trichotillomania, and is similar to skin picking. If that is the case, parents may pursue cognitive-behavioral therapy with the goal of helping the child to gain control of their pattern. It may be helpful to teach the child stress management tools in general or attend therapy focused on habit reversal. Others suggest the use of medicines to treat OCD or depression and others suggest a professionally developed behavior modification plan. Some mixture of these interventions is likely helpful to lessen the behavior.

For more information, please visit www.trich.org.

Please Read:

  • Stay Out of My Hair! Parenting a Child with Trichotillomania by Mouton-Odum and Golomb (for parents)
  • What to Do When Bad Habits Take Hold by Huebner (for kids)
  • The  Hair Pulling Habit and You: How to Solve the Trichotillomania Puzzle by Golomb and Vavrichek (for parents and teens)
  • The Hair Pulling Problem: A Complete Guide to Trichotillomania by Penzel (for parents)
  • Help for Hair Pullers: Understanding and Coping with Trichotillomania by Keuthen, Stein & Christenson (for parents)

Author: Dr. Rene Hackney

With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.

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