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)

Child Chewing on Clothes

chewing

Hi Dr. Rene,

My six-year-old son has a habit of chewing on his shirts. He frequently comes home from school with his collar and sleeves in tatters. I really think he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. When he does it at home, I can gently remind him to stop, and he does. But when he’s at school, I’m not there to remind him not to do it. Any thoughts on getting him past this?
Sincerely,

Hannah, mom of two

Dear Hannah,

There are a variety of reasons cited for children mindlessly chewing on clothes. Some suggest chewing may assist children with focus and attention. It is along the lines of giving kids a koosh-ball for focused fidgeting in the classroom. Others suggest some children just need more physical movement and sitting still causes built up tension.  These may be sensory-seeking children with a need for more oral stimulation or physical stimulation overall. For others it may be a self-soothing activity like thumb sucking or hair twirling. The chewing may help the child calm from negative emotions. However it started, for some children it just becomes a habit.

There are just as many suggestions on how to curb the unwanted behavior. Following the koosh-ball idea, there are chew bracelets, necklaces (such as phitens or chewelery), chewy tubes, grabbers, chewing pencil toppers, teething balls, coffee stirers and small nuk brushes. Several parents on Listserves suggest a wash cloth then strips of a wash cloth for children to chew as needed. Children may enjoy brushing their teeth often with a soft toothbrush. I tend to prefer the replacement activities such as counting the back of their teeth with their tongue or chewing healthy, crunchy snacks (think apple slices and carrots often) or sugar-free chewing gum.

It may be worthwhile to test if more physical movement opportunities and movement breaks during the day help. This might include taking your child to the playground in the morning, providing lots of gross motor activities indoors and out and being sure there are recess and P.E. breaks at school. Plan for your child to have challenges around carrying, pushing, pulling, climbing and swimming.

It may also be helpful to teach your child other ways to self soothe. This may be deep breathing, slow or backward counting, visualization, meditation or mantras. You might provide a lovey to sleep with and cuddle. If the chewing seems to be ramping up, it is worth checking for any stress your child may be feeling.

When you do see the behavior be sure you are gently saying, “take that out of your mouth,” or, “clothes stay out of your mouth,” rather than, “stop chewing on that,” or, “don’t chew.” Ask his teacher to do the same everytime. I would pair this with one of the other options like a chew bracelet or gum. Each time redirect him to what he can chew. Avoid nagging, yelling or disciplining the chewing. This increased negative attention often backfires. The long term idea is most children outgrow this behavior on their own but it can take a while.

If it doesn’t lessen soon and considerably with your consistent efforts, you might take a consultation with a pediatric occupational therapist who is familiar with chewing for ideas beyond mine.

A good related article:

http://www.kidzworld.co.za/development/does-your-child-chew-on-her-clothes-and-pencils.html

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Calm Parenting – Know Your Triggers

Calm Parenting is a hot topic these days. My Calm Parenting workshops have quickly become as popular as my Positive Discipline classes. In both sessions, and in many other, unrelated classes parents report losing their cool often. They say they would like to provide a calm household, but find themselves yelling more than they’d like. This week’s posts will all focus on ways to calm.

It can be helpful to first identify your triggers for losing that sense of calm in parenting. Right now, make a list of the things that happen or the things your kids do that make you lose it. A top three list would be a good place to start.

Next, think about and jot down how you typically react to each. Be honest with yourself, what do you typically do and say? What do you look like and sound like to your kids? What is the intensity or volume of your response? This is your reaction.

Now realize, you never need to react that way again. There are so many other things, likely more productive things you could do in these moments. Brainstorm a list of better things you could do. Maybe focus on giving them choices related to the behavior, focus on creative ways to better teach them or build a list of children’s stories that would illustrate the point you are trying to make. In the long run, you could learn positive discipline and develop better things to say around I messages, empathy, positive intent, choices and consequences. You might read Playful Parenting by Cohen and make light when it seems appropriate.

The point is to recognize that your typical reaction when you lose your cool is less than helpful. It likely isn’t working to curb the behavior and doesn’t feel good to anyone involved. Part of calm parenting is planning for these times.

Curb Tattling

Tattling is a common behavior particularly for children four to seven years old. It is also an unpopular behavior particularly with classmates and older siblings. My Claire was about five years old when she started tattling non-stop on her older sister. It took about a week for Alicen to have enough. Claire was telling on big things like, “she is hurting me,” and little things like, “she is almost touching me.”

The first round of defense is to teach children the difference between tattling v. what we call helpful telling. Helpful telling is when they come to tell you something that you want or need to know about. This includes when someone is hurt or in danger or getting their feelings squashed. Define this with children and give them examples. Helpful telling would include, “she hit me,” “her chair is too close to the stairs,” and, “they are calling him names and he is crying.” These are things that need an adult’s intervention, children are showing they aren’t yet able to handle the situation.

Once children understand the difference, it is on the parent to consistently respond. Parents should intervene when it is helpful telling and not when it is tattling. When the child says, “her chair is too close to the stairs,” a parent can say, “thank you for telling me, that’s helpful,” and intervene. When the child says, “she is looking at me funny,” a parent can say, “is anyone hurt or in danger? I think you can handle this, go tell her to stop.”

Done consistently, this should start to curb tattling. It makes tattling ineffective. If it’s still happening too often, parents can add a logical negative consequence to make tattling costly to the complaining child. The answer is to have the tattling child say something nice about the child they just told on. In our house Claire said, “she is breathing on me.”  I responded, “is anyone hurt or in danger? I think you can handle this, but first, tell me something nice about Alicen.” This was painful for Claire, it took her a few minutes of saying, “I can’t think of anything,” before she said, “if I have trouble with the tv, she helps me change the channel.” I said without laughing, “good enough, go.” Children do not want to say something nice about the child they came to tattle on. Done consistently, this really dampens the behavior.

A Friend’s Child is Aggressive

Dear Dr. Rene,

I am feeling stuck in a difficult situation. I have three children under five years old, and have been fortunate to be friends with our neighbor who has four children, three in the same age range. It was a great situation, we live so close and the kids enjoyed playing together. Unfortunately, one of her children has been diagnosed with special needs and has become increasingly aggressive towards my children in the last year. When the kids first became friends, he was only aggressive towards his own siblings, but now it is towards my kids, and it’s often. Recently, he pushes, scratches, headbutts, hits or kicks my oldest every time they play together. The behavior is impulsive and erratic, most times my child isn’t doing anything to provoke, and it can happen with an adult right beside them. One minute they are playing, the next he is pushing or scratching. The most frustrating thing is that my oldest (who has been the repeated victim) head butted his own younger sibling yesterday, something I never thought would happen. I don’t want my children hurt, and I don’t want them learning the behavior. I am also fearful this child is really going to hurt someone. My concern is such that I don’t want my children to play with this aggressive child. How do I handle things with the neighbor? What do I tell my son about the aggression, so he’s not confused by being hurt by a playmate and doesn’t learn the bad behavior? Also, I am fine with the other children in the family, they all play nicely. Can I invite just them? We’ve become good friends with the neighbors ourselves and go out together and celebrate occasions together. Is there a way to keep the other relationships and avoid play with the one who is having such difficulty and seems to be getting worse?

Sincerely,

Concerned Mom of Three

Dear Concerned,

There are so many questions here with lots of options. Your primary concern is and should be your own children, their safety and what they are learning from these incidents. Part of the message they are getting rests in the follow-up that happens when this child is aggressive. Are you or the other parent addressing the behavior? Some parents give up as it happens so often and chalk it up to how kids play. If this is the case, your child is learning that behavior gets a pass. If the mom is addressing well each time with consequences and coaching how to play nicely often, hopefully your child is also seeing this piece to understand it is an unwanted or unacceptable behavior. If you continue to play as things are, I think you’ll need to address with the mom how this should be handled each time. Ask that it be consistently addressed when the children are playing together. Be sure you are both comfortable with being able to follow through. Even with a consistent follow through, your children are learning from his behavior. That they see aggression in play makes it more available as a behavior to try themselves.

If you choose to continue the play, you might try to change the play that is available. Children tend to be more aggressive in unstructured open play. You might limit play to field trips, bowling or movies. When they are at the house, you might invite them over for painting on big paper then snack and goodbyes. The idea is to fill their time rather than just go play. We had a relative whose child was particularly aggressive when the girls were little. We talked about it and for a few years opted to just get together for outings rather than open play. Honestly, there were hurt feelings, but a few years later we were able to go back to regular play.

You might also have one parent “shadow” him. In our preschool shadowing would mean one teacher stays within arms reach. This is so they might see it coming and be able to intervene early or at least stop it quickly if it starts. The idea would be to allow play but be watching and close at all times.

You and mom might also look for triggers and cues for the aggression. While you say it seems to happen out of the blue, likely there are things that set him off and signs he gives before the aggression. Triggers might be another child having a toy he wants, being told no, very close physical play or having to wait. Triggers are the things that set him off, and, if you can learn what they are, you have a better chance to intervene. Cues are signs he’s about to be aggressive. Some children get tense shoulders, others get a wild look in their eyes or their voice goes up a notch. The idea is to look and listen for cues and intervene on the cue rather than the behavior that follows.

All this is a lot of effort and assumes you are going to continue the play. I think you are also perfectly reasonable to decide to end the play at least for now. If this is the case, you can offer to maintain the play with the other children in the family, but be prepared for the mom to decline. It may be too difficult for her to separate her children this way. You can also suggest keeping the parent relationship going, but again this may be declined.

Either way you go with the above, you will have to speak with the mom. When you do, this avoid blaming her or her children. Talk about your concerns for the safety of all, that your children have started being more aggressive with each other recently, and you are working to curb that. Or, you could just opt to let this whole relationship go quietly. This means to stop making the invites and politely decline when invitations are made.  Eventually, she may push you for an explanation and giving that is up to you.

I hope something in here is helpful.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Want Kids to Listen? Stop Repeating Yourself!

It’s an all too familiar scenario…

Mom is almost ready to leave, children are still coloring in the kitchen. Mom says, “hey, time to get your shoes on, and could you turn off the tv, please?” Mom keeps moving to put the breakfast dishes in the sink. Children ignore mom’s request and keep coloring. Mom walks over to gather her things, turns off the tv herself and says, “really, get your shoes.  We gotta go.” Children continue coloring. One child looks up briefly, sees mom looking through her purse and checking her phone, so back to coloring. Mom, without looking up says, “shoes.” Mom, putting on her coat snaps, “shoes now! (five seconds pass) That’s one….(five seconds), two….(five seconds), do you hear me? I am counting! GET YOUR SHOES!” Crayons drop, kids move towards shoes. 

Parent asks child to do something. Child ignores request. Parent repeats request. Child ignores. Parent escalates. Child ignores. Parent, who was initially calm, loses it and yells. Child listens and moves into action. Parent is frustrated that child doesn’t listen.

The unfortunate thing if you are in this cycle is you are actually teaching your child to NOT listen. By repeating the request, you are directly teaching them to tune you out. The child is learning that, when you start talking, you are going to say it two or three more times, so they wait. They learn that they have at least a few more minutes from the first request before they have to listen. They learn you are unpredictable, sometimes you really mean it, and sometimes you just don’t, so they watch.

To break the habit of repeating yourself, you have to make a new habit. The idea is to say it once, and then expect them to listen. Accept that at least initially, you may have to move into action and help them to listen. You may have to help them at first because together you’ve created the pattern of tuning out. So let’s say you buy in, and starting now, decide to say things once and expect children to listen. For starters, the new pattern is going to fail. Tomorrow morning, you get their attention and very clearly say, “it’s time to go. Put on your shoes, please.” They are not likely to listen as listening the first time is not the familiar habit. Rather than repeat and frustrate yourself, move into action. Take child to shoes, or take shoes to child, and get them started. You can still give them choices about which pair of shoes or which step to sit on. You can give them a challenge to put them on before you sing the alphabet. You can still be polite and say please. The point is, you can still talk, just avoid the repeated asking them to put on their shoes again. Hopefully you will be less frustrated. Even if you have to stop what you are doing to help, at least you only said it once.

Have faith that you are building a new and better habit. It should only take a few weeks before a six-year-old starts to realize, “oh, you are only going to say things once. You actually expect me to listen.” With a two-year-old, it can take until they are three, but it is a far better habit to be in as a parent, to say things once and expect listening than to start down the path of repeating to be ignored.

We had a mom in class who said, “I get this, but it’s crazy. I must say 16 times every morning, ‘put on your shoes.’ No one is listening to me, but I”m making four lunches, and I’ve got four boys running amok, and you want me to stop making lunch.” Yes, I either want her to stop making lunches and help them listen, OR, better yet, save her breath and wait until she is done making lunches, and then gather everyone to ask them to put on shoes. Wait until you are in a position to move into action and expect listening. In her current habit she is directly teaching them to tune her out 16 times, making the rest of her day that much harder. Clearly there is a need to change the habit.

Teach Self-Evaluation and Work Review

Self evaluation is another good skill for children to have, and it’s a piece of teaching self control. This is being able to go back and review their own efforts or their own products. The goal is to have children slow down and consider their work. We do this in our Look, Listen and Learn class over a sequence of days by having children draw three of the same shapes, later three of the same objects (like a house), then write their name three times. After each effort, they are guided to review their work and decide which is the best and the worst, then to describe why they choose each and what could they do to improve on the worst to make it more like the best. We then ask others to (nicely) state why they agree or disagree with the child’s own review. This is a task designed to have them thinking about their own process as they approach tasks and to encourage them to give their best effort. It is also foundation for teaching them to review their academic work later. By second grade, children should be encouraged to review their homework before it goes in the back pack each night. This can be as simple as having them tell their parent one sentence about each assignment. As they get older, it is more detailed including re-working 2 math problems or reading a writing assignment aloud.

Teach Children Goal Setting

Goal setting is identifying the successful endpoint of a plan. We talk about goal setting in our Look, Listen and Learn classes each week and then follow up to help children identify success as they play. Goal setting is easy to incorporate in daily life. Talk with children about the task at hand and what it would look like if it goes well. Talk through the individual steps that are part of the larger process, and then work to recognize if they are met. Take a soccer practice for example, success might be participating in every activity, beating their time for a relay and talking to one new friend. I know that is a lot to lay on a six-year-old who is just there to have fun, but it can teach them in a low key way to think more about their process and how to move through in a better way. Goal setting is another piece of teaching self control.

Teach Sequencing

This is a piece of attention span and impulse control that overlaps with the previous posts’ suggestions about listening, planning and organization. Sequencing is more about the follow through of listening and the organization of a plan. We practice this with Sequence Cards* where children are given pictures and asked to arrange them in a story that makes sense, and then tell their story. We also have them retell pictures books identifying the beginning middle and end as well as the order of smaller details if they are able. Our Crazy Directions game* and Robot game* both get at their ability to sequence. At home this may be ordering items (big, bigger, biggest blocks), talking through the beginning, middle and end of following a recipe, building a model, reading a book or playing a board game.

Sequence Cards* http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp;jsessionid=PGNhxm1v8Ch2TpnnyxrXX1Ls2ggLTmvgLyXvVhD5J1JF1LWMHGtf!-2074226025!-769277136?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C919%2C061&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1330023930245

Crazy Directions game* – Start with two steps then move on to three and four step directions. Make it fun. A three step direction might be, “find the dog, touch his nose and jump up and down. Ready, go!” If three is too many for them to manage, go back to two. If three is easy, move on to four.

Robot game* – Child is a robot, and you are the robot programer. You are giving step by step directions and they are following them, doing ONLY what you say to do. This can be a slow process, but they are practicing listening, following directions and going slowly through the process of an activity. For a younger child, it can be going over to pick up and return a book. For an older child, it can be making a PBandJ. It’s good to then change roles and have you be the robot.

Teach Organization and Scheduling

Reducing physical and mental clutter and other distractions can greatly benefit attention span and lessen distractibility. At home, this is getting toys and bedrooms organized. Make a plan with your child about how, when and where to store toys and other belongings. In our house, the toys all have a place they belong as do the backpacks, homework, art supplies and shoes. It is up to parents to provide initial set-up and expectations, and in the long run it’s a child’s job to follow through. Teaching the behvaior and then passing the responsibility may take a great amount of shared effort. At school this includes the teachers coaching the child to regularly clean out their desk, backpack and locker.

This also means getting scheduled. Most children with attention issues do far better when given a schedule. Plan with your child for a morning, afternoon and evening routine. The afternoons may vary based on extra-curricular activities, but have a plan that works before each day. It may help to build in 10 minutes of free time at the end of each routine. 10 minutes to play at the end of each morning or to read at the end of each evening. This provides a bit of a buffer and gives children something to work towards rather than against as discipline. It can also be helpful to make a visual of the schedule. This might be making a poster with pictures of the included activities or drawings of the clock for time spent at each. Have your child draw or copy the pictures or take pictures of your child moving through the activities. At school, this includes the child learning to use a calendar or homework notebook to manage assignments and studying.

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