When Your Child Pulls Their Hair: What Parents Need to Know
Parenting a child is hard on a good day. Having a child who deals with a challenging body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB), such as Trichotillomania, can leave even the most skilled parent struggling to know the best way to parent and support their child.
You want to support and guide your child. You want to protect them from anything that can hurt them. You also want to help them overcome their challenges. Research into child mental health tells us that parenting can play a key role in a child’s mental health and ability to cope in healthy ways. But, knowing just how to do that isn’t always clear and you may have more questions than answers. If you find yourself searching for answers, this article is for you.
It’s Not Your Fault
A parent’s first thought when their child is struggling is, “Is this my fault?” It’s a normal question to ask. Know that you didn’t cause your child’s hair pulling. Their behavior is not a reflection of you or your parenting. Mental health issues, including BFRBs like hair pulling, can result from any number of factors. A child’s temperament, environment, age, and experiences, even genetics, can play a part. Even if you struggle with a BFRB, it’s still not your fault. We cannot control or predict what disorders someone may develop.
Understand Your Child’s Disorder
There’s an old saying, “Knowledge is power.” You no doubt have a lot of questions:
Why does my child pull their hair?
Will they outgrow it?
Why can’t they just stop?
When it comes to helping your child, understanding their disorder can help you to better help and support them. As with most mental health disorders, there is a lot of misinformation out there. Take time to learn about the disorder from experts in the field and your child’s healthcare team.
Talk to Your Child
It’s hard to know what to say or not to say. It might be tempting to just “not talk about it” or avoid the subject for fear of upsetting your child or feeling uncomfortable about bringing up the hair pulling. It’s ok to talk about it and say the words “hair pulling”. It’s ok to not have all the answers or know exactly what to say. Let your child know that you support them and that you are there to listen. Depending on their age, they may not open up right away. That’s ok. The important thing is to let them know you’re open to talking when they feel ready.
What to Say…Or Not
When your child is open to talking, give them your full attention. Mustering the courage to share their feelings might be really uncomfortable for them. Listen to what they say to you. It’s ok to ask how they feel. Acknowledge and validate their feelings. Be careful to not minimize or dismiss their feelings or tell them why they are “wrong”. Their feelings are very real for them, even if you don’t understand them. Don’t scold or punish them for pulling. The urges are beyond what they can control, and they don’t do it for attention or defiance. Praise your child for their efforts to cope and heal. Let them know that you love them no matter what and are there to support them in whatever way they need you to. You’re on the same team!
Respect Their Privacy
Kids, especially older kids and teens, are often very sensitive to other people knowing their business and kids with BFRBs are no exception. Their pulling may be a source of embarrassment or shame. When deciding who to share their condition with, consider the need to know. Your child’s BFRB is largely their business to tell…or not. Let them decide what or if they want to share with their friends and others. Of course, there may be instances where a teacher, school nurse, close family member, or other key person needs to know. If your child is old enough, have a conversation about what needs to be disclosed and decide together. A good rule of thumb is to share on a need-to-know basis and then, only what is necessary to meet that need, always being sensitive to your child’s level of discomfort with other people knowing. Beyond that, it’s ok to let your child decide when and how to share the details of their disorder.
Find A Qualified Therapist
Hair pulling is a complex disorder that requires specialized care from a therapist trained in the treatment of BFRBs. Depending on the severity of your child’s hair pulling, you may also need medical support such as dermatology or pediatrics. When seeking a therapist, ask about their experience with treating hair pulling. You want someone who understands the complexities of hair pulling and uses evidence-based approaches.
Get Support for You
This one might surprise you. Tips are great but the issues and situations you will encounter with a child who struggles with hair pulling go well beyond a few tips. There’s nothing like getting guidance and support directly from experts in the field of BFRBs.
TrichStop.com offers a program designed especially for parents of children who struggle with hair pulling. The program, built on evidence-based treatment approaches such as Habit Reversal Training (HRT), is tailored to meet your child’s needs. You’ll work with therapists who are experts in the treatment of hair pulling to learn practical and effective ways to help your child reduce hair pulling. You’ll learn skills for parenting and ways to enhance communication with your child. The program offers a secure, text-based interface so that you can access your therapist when and where it works best for you. It’s convenient and affordable. This program is the only internet-based program specifically designed for parents and children who struggle with hair pulling.
You might be thinking, “Why would I need therapy? I’m the parent.” As the parent of a child who pulls, you will encounter situations that you may not understand or be prepared for. It’s a complex and sometimes confusing disorder that most parents are not prepared to deal with. The program will help you to better understand the disorder while you learn specific strategies to help your child learn to manage their urges to pull. You’ll have a therapeutic partner to help you address the challenging situations that are bound to arise and give you a place to find support and guidance. You are a key part of your child’s journey of healing. Therapy can help you be strong and confident as you navigate this journey with them.
On the TrichStop.com site, you can also interact with other parents. The site offers a forum moderated by qualified therapists where you can connect with others, ask a question, or offer support to someone else.
There is hope and help for children who pull their hair. The TrichStop.com Program for Parents can help.
1. Bögels, S. M., Hellemans, J., Van Deursen, S., Römer, M., & Van der Meulen, R. (2013). Mindful parenting in mental health care: Effects on parental and child psychopathology, parental stress, parenting, Coparenting, and marital functioning. Mindfulness, 5(5), 536-551. doi:10.1007/s12671-013-0209-7