Apr 12, 2014

How do I stop my child pulling his hair?

Category: Children
Posted By: Kathryn

Question: My 3yr old son has been twirling and pulling his hair so much that he now has a bald patch at the front of his head. He started just twirling the hair but now he sticks his finger in his mouth to get it wet then 'twirls' and pulls at his hair, his hands are red raw and look painful but he won't stop.

It was getting so bad we decided to get the hair dresser to cut his hair down using a number one razor in an attempt to stop him twirling and break the habit. He is still doing it and is now rubbing the patch. I'm really worried he will end up with a large area that won't grow back.

I have tried reward charts, bribes, giving him soft items to stroke instead of his hair etc, but nothing is working. I think its a comfort thing for him and I can't find much on google apart from 'they usually grow out of it'.

I have seen our GP who seemed at a loss and just said I need to tell him off (which is not really working). When I ask my son why he does it he says he likes it, when I pushed him for more clarity about why he likes it he said because it 'stops me feeling sad'!  I have put this as a open question as there seems to be no advice on the internet.

Many thanks, Kathryn


Answer: Dear Kathryn,

Thank you for your question and I am really pleased to be able to put something up on the internet on the subject if there isn't much available.

Your poor son, and poor you, it is so distressing to see your child do something that is so causing him harm.  And you have clearly been trying to get advice and had some rather odd ideas.  I don’t think telling him off is likely to be helpful at all as it is not clearly an ingrained habit and at times he is doing it in his sleep and clearly isn’t in control of what he is doing.

It is true that most children do grow out of it and mostly before they cause too much permanent damage to their hair.  However, I don’t think that it is something you should ignore, especially as you have pointed out that he is doing it because it stops him feeling sad.  It seems to be a rather ingrained and habitual way of self-soothing and comforting himself and what is needed is to find out why he is needing to self-sooth.

I am not sure whether you would need the help of a therapist or not, it depends on how far you can get with the problem yourself.  What you need to find out is; what is causing him to feel unhappy, and why it is that he has turned to self-soothing rather than reaching out to a parent to help him with it.  It might be that if you just sit with him for a while each day and talk to him about what is going on, ask him about the sad feelings and talk to him about being able to come to you when he feels sad rather than pull his hair, that you might be able to help him choose another way of dealing with his feelings.  You can ask him what else makes him feel less sad; do cuddles help?  Does a bottle of milk and a nursery rhyme help?

If you decided that you would like some support in managing this then I think that the help of a child trained therapist would be a really helpful.  I would look for someone who is willing to help you work with your child or to see you both together, rather than someone who would see your child on his own.  The thing that you want to be doing is to help him build a relationship with you that he feels he can rely on instead of relying on self-soothing techniques and for that reason individual therapy for him would be counter-productive.

I hope that helps and I really wish you well with managing the situation.

Best wishes,




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