My Daughter Is Pulling Her Hair Out

I’ve been sitting on this post for months. Going between wanting to write it and share it and wanting to keep it secret. I can’t keep it a secret anymore, and I feel like I have to share, in case other moms are going through the same thing. This post was hard for me to write.

My daughter is pulling out her hair.

Not just a strand here, and a strand there. No. She’s pulling it out by the handful. Clumps of hair. Every morning I find what can only be described as hairballs in her crib, stuck to her jammies, wrapped around her bottle. Sometimes she hands them to me and says “ewww, gwoss hair”  Other times I find them and sigh, and she makes a sad face as if to say “I’m sorry momma, I’ll try harder.”

My daughter is pulling out her hair.

We’ve taken her to the doctor for this (twice) but there isn’t really anything they can do to stop it, since it seems to be her way of coping with any stress in her life, and once she starts, she doesn’t know how to stop.

 

She used to have so much hair...
She used to have so much hair…
So. Much
So. Much
And then….
My daughter started pulling her hair out. 
It was so thin...
It was so thin…Hair clips wouldn’t stay in anymore
It became impossible to "hide" it....
It became impossible to “hide” it….

My daughter is pulling her hair out.

It started back in September. I found a few little balls of hair stuck to her blanket and thought they had come from the dryer or something. Then I noticed one in her carseat, and it was soggy. She’d had it in her mouth. Then, while shopping in Target, I witnessed the pulling. She pulled out handfuls of hair (4 to be exact) right in the front of the store. I was so upset, and so embarrassed as people walked by, watching. I begged her to stop. I held her hands to her lap and she just laughed, and then i called her pediatrician. We went right over to see him.

His diagnosis? Cradle Cap. Eczema. He believed that her head was itchy and that she was pulling because she didn’t know to scratch. I knew in my heart he was wrong, but wanted so badly to believe him, to believe that there was an easy fix to this. I went home and treated her scalp. The (tiny amount) of cradle cap cleared up quickly and I prayed that was the end of it.

It wasn’t. She continued to pull for a week or two more.

Oily cradle cap treatments became our "thing"
Oily cradle cap treatments became our “thing”
And then it did stop. I forgot about it. Her hair started to grow back in. I could feel the stubble when I kissed her little head. I was relieved and thought that chapter in our book of life was over. A short, but dramatic chapter.
It started growing back!
It started growing back!

I was wrong.

My daughter is pulling her hair out.

It started again after Christmas. Our Christmas in New York was a bit….traumatic…for Avery. She had multiple (what I call) panic attacks (and our pedi calls tantrums) they aren’t tantrums. These “attacks” start with something really terrifying Avery, and result in hyperventilating, screams, digging her fingers in to my flesh, and not being able to soothe. At Christmas a few things happened that sent her into this spin. (Note: These attacks are extremely rare. She’s only had them 3 other times in her life, and that day she had no less than 4. Her tantrums are a daily occurrence, and are a completely different beast) Anyway…the hair pulling started up again when we got home, and has continued.

thinning hair toddler pulling out hair bald

My daughter is still pulling out her hair.

I’m constantly asked “Is her hair getting lighter?  Did you cut it?  It looks different”

“No….she’s…uhm…pulling her hair out….”

What do I do?

We started putting mittens on her hands at bedtime. She would get excited and say “Yay! Mittens!!” but they are always off when she wakes in the morning, and the tell-tale hairball is not far from her tiny hands. How do you teach a toddler not to pull their hair to soothe?  This isn’t like taking away a pacifier….you can’t take away their hair (well, you CAN shave their heads, but we have no desire to go that route at this juncture) We say “No pulling” and on the extremely rare occasions that we find her crib hairball free in the morning I jump up and down and shout “Hooray!! No Hair!!! YAY! Good job!” she gets excited and claps, “No hair!”

My daughter is pulling her hair out.

And I don’t know how to stop it.

Neither do her doctors.

I’m told that she “should” grow out of it by 3…or 5… I’d like it to stop. Now. Tonight.

Let me be clear, I know there are so many worse things that could be wrong. I am not stupid. I know this is mainly a cosmetic issue (though I worry about the emotional and psychological side of this as well)  However, I am upset about it. She’s a girl, she was born with a ton of pretty hair. She had such wonderful hair. And now? She’s pulling it out.

The nurse practitioner that we saw suggested a hat at night, a light one that wont bother her. She also suggested cutting her hair so it’s too short to pull. And to continue trying with the mittens.

So what are we doing?  Well, we started with mittens, but then I discovered these: Scratch Me Not Mittens & these: Scratch Sleeves Two items that I am planning to order. However I wanted something for tonight. Right now. Immediately. And after showing a friend she said “I bet you could make some in the meantime with a pair of tights”  BRILLIANT! So that’s exactly what we did! I cut a pair of tights down the middle, leaving them connected on one side so the formed a little “jacket” We put them over her arms, and put her pjs on top (to avoid the risk of them getting tangled) and this is the result:

tights sleeves no pull mittens toddler pulling out hair“Yay Mintins!” and laughing because “This funny!”

I’m really hoping this works.

Is having a bald two year old the worst thing that could happen? Absolutely not. That said, I do not want this to continue and I think most moms of girls would agree with me on this.

I found this blog helpful to me when I started researching this problem: My Toddler Pulls Out Her Hair-Lovely Scribbles

I hope my post is helpful to any other parents out there who are dealing with this.

41 comments

  1. Kelly @ In the Mom Light Blog says:

    I’m sorry you’re going through this, and I know how stressful these things can be. My son chose to hold in his poop as his way of dealing with anxiety. It was/is SO stressful. It started at 16 months old! After 3 years of dealing with this, and finally being relieved a bit because he FINALLY was stopping the holding, well last night I noticed he was grinding his teeth :-( I suppose everyone needs to find a way to deal with their stress… ugh – parenting is tough! I hope the tights work :-)

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks momma! It’s so hard! I am glad to hear that your son has gotten through that holding in thing! Ugh, that had to be painful for him and so frustrating for you! I grind my teeth at night and as a kid I used to “click” my front teeth together, and I notice Avery doing the same sometimes as well! Hopefully these kids figure out some other less damaging, coping mechanisms!

  2. Sharon - MomGenerations.com says:

    Sarah… I am so sorry for this pain you are carrying. I don’t know if this will help, but my niece (now all grown up and an emergency room nurse) began symptoms of trichotillomania as a very young girl. My brother and sister-in-law were frantic for answers and got none until she was diagnosed. It took a very, very long time to find this answer. Please ask your pedi if this is possible… just in case. It manifests with OCD hair-pulling. If it is an itchy scalp or anything easy, I pray for you to find answers. If it is beginning tricholtillomania, there is help. I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds or making you frightened by saying this, but I have seen this agony and I know that relief is possible. Uncovering every possibility… xox

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you Sharon! You are not overstepping at all! I have done research on that, and have spoken with a friend who has it. The hope is that this is just a “normal” coping mechanism and not something rooted deeper, such as OCD/Trich. Her doctor doesn’t believe, at this age, that it is OCD, he says he sees that starting in older kids (6 or 7) However, I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility and I am definitely keeping a very watchful eye on it. She really only does it at night and during naps. It is not something she does during the day (unless she is falling asleep in her car seat) Thank you for your kind words and advice!!

      • Sharon - MomGenerations.com says:

        Sarah… I know are thorough, vigilant, knowledgeable and keen on all things related to your beautiful Avery; and most important, your Love and Joy for her, in her and with her will find every answer you need. God Bless you and thank you for writing this powerful post because someone else will discover your words and a new world of possibility and hope will emerge for her/his/their child… xox

  3. Jen says:

    I’m sorry to hear that you all are going through this. I love the tights solution, especially since you already had them! I’m certain she’ll figure out how to deal with her stress and anxiety. No teenage girl ever went to the prom while pulling out her hair. Seriously, she’ll work this out with your help. In the meantime, praying for you all – for her anxiety and the anxiety you have over it. HUGS!

  4. Beth @ TheAngelForever says:

    You my friend are an amazing mother and person. This post is heartfelt and with wonderful intention of helping others out there. Sending hugs to you and hoping things will change. Parenting keeps you on your toes and plays with your emotions all the time, but the kids make it worth it.

  5. jenni says:

    My daughter also pulls her hair, my sons, and mine. I really think her problem is more of an obsession or OCD related because she also takes the hair out of the brush and rubs it on her skin, which is weird she also, likes the feeling of guys chest and underarm hair. She doesn’t just pull her hair she rubs it on her neck,face,in her eyes and on me. I think she eats her hair I have found hair in her poop on several occassions. She also, has chronic constipation and takes miralax daily. I have spoken to the to her pediatrician about the problem but she doesn’t seem concerned. I have tried adverting her hands from her hair, gave her dolls, and other soothes and nothing has helped. I hope she stops on her own before the fall because, she’ll be starting pre-k.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Jenni! Thank you for sharing your experience! Avery’s doctor didn’t take it very seriously either. He mainly felt “She’ll grow out of it” and if she we older (5 or 6) that he’d look closer at it being an OCD type issue. Maybe you can find a child psychologist to speak to about it. I have a friend who does have Trichotillomania and what you describe with the rubbing and feeling is something she says she does as well. It could also just be a sensory thing for your daughter, she may just like the feeling. If you’re really worried, I’d definitely speak with someone who specializes in these types of behaviors in kids! Best wishes!

  6. Maria says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for sharing your story and tips. I just wanted to see how things are going? I have twins and one of my daughters has a minor sensory issue and is pulling her hair out too. It looks a lot like your daughter’s hair. She pulls sometimes handfuls out and then takes one hair, wraps it around her fingers and sucks on her fingers, then pulls the hair out with the other hand. It’s a soothing thing. We have an OT but have not seen a dr. yet. I haven’t tried the sleeves yet. What do you do during the day when you see her do it?

    Thanks for your help!
    Maria

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Maria, the sleeves worked wonders for us. She no longer pulls her hair out (though sometimes she does pull fur off her stuffed animals, or pull at her blankets and put that in her mouth) She also occasionally, when she’s exhausted, will put her own hair in her mouth, but not pull it out or chew it off. When she used to do it during the day (only in her car seat, really) I would try to redirect her by giving her a toy or snack. Something to take her mind of pulling, and that worked 99% of the time. I didn’t want to yell at her or punish her for it, but just redirect the behavior.

      I hope you find a solution for your daughter!! Thank you for reaching out!!

  7. Lori says:

    Hi Sarah,
    I just read this post and you have NO idea how much it spoke to me. I am going through this EXACT thing right now, and it kills me. I know that it is not the end of the world, but every time she pulls I feel pain in my heart. I spend the day feeling anxious and nervous.
    For the first time tonight we used scratch sleeves and so far, so good. She went to sleep easily with them on. She sucks 2 fingers so I cut a small slit to let those 2 fingers out…I needed to give her some soothing strategy.
    How are things going? Did using the scratch sleeves clear this all up ? Is her hair growing back in well? It seems from the above comment that things are going well, but I would love some more advice from you if you have any….
    Thank you!

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Lori!! I’m sorry you’re going through this! It is so difficult, I understand! I’m so glad that you found this post and that it helped! Yes, the sleeves worked wonders for Avery, and she no longer pulls her hair out (she does occasionally put her hair in her mouth, the longer parts on the side that reach that far.) Her hair has all grown back in! How old is your daughter? I hope the sleeves work for you!! Please, feel free to contact me at sweetlilblog @ gmail.com if you want to discuss further, in a more private space!

  8. Christy says:

    I just wanted to thank you for making this post. My daughter who is 2.5 years old starting pulling out her hair a few weeks ago. After a quick search, I found your blog, and I was immediately able to create the tight “mittens” that night, and we haven’t had any issues since wearing the mittens. We also ordered a pair of the Scratch Sleeves you had linked which work great as well. When we took Olivia to the doctor, our family doctor was so impressed with the idea of making tights into mittens that she said she was going to file the idea away to share with other families. I did have one more question though. With your daughter, how long did you have her wear the mittens when sleeping? Did you see any relapse once she stopped wearing them? I don’t intend on stopping the mittens at night/naps any time soon but am not sure how to decide when is a good time to stop her wearing them.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Christy! I am so glad that my post helped you!! We stopped having her wear the mittens at nap time after a couple weeks–I decided to stop with naps when I saw that she was no longer pulling at her hair during car trips. Once we saw that she was doing well with naps, we stopped using them at night as well (Probably about 4 weeks) She did have one short relapse, but it only lasted a few days, and I think was related to a stressful situation. We have not had any hair pulling issues since then, and it has been almost a full year! I wish you and your daughter the best! Thank you for reaching out! Let me know if you ever have any other questions!

  9. Tara says:

    Hi
    I stumbled across your blog while doing research on hair pulling. My daughter started it about 8 months ago, it lasted for maybe 2 months and then I noticed a decrease until recently, she is back at it. I bought the no scratch me mittens when she first starting doing it but I am going to try the tights because she has figured out how to flip the flap over with her mouth to expose her hands (she is 2 years 4 months) anyways, I realize the date of your post is over a year ago and wondering if your little one is still doing it, any methods you suggest. Doctor basically saying she will grow out of it.

    Thanks
    Tara

    • Sarah says:

      Hi tara,
      Thanks for reaching out! Yes, my daughter has stopped the hair pulling completely. I think, for us, the tights/mittens worked very well, and it helped to break the habit. I hope you have success with your daughter! And if you feel that it’s continuing, and you are still concerned (and not satisfied with the pediatrician’s opinion, I’d definitely take her to someone else, or call someone with knowledge of behavioral health in young children. I wish you the best!! It can be so stressful for us as moms!!

  10. Amber says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I read this with tears flowing down my face. I Could be writing the exact same post with the exact wording. My daughter just turned 2 yesterday and I’ve been dealing with this for a couple months. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve started researching and came upon your post. I’m so glad I’m not alone. I found clumps of hair all over her crib this morning, it was everything I could do to contain myself. I am going to try the tights method at nap time today. Again, thank you for sharing your story.

  11. Luke says:

    So glad to hear the sleeves worked I just ordered for my 3 yr old son – I share your pain.
    His started along with potty training.
    I am concerned it is linked with something more long term like asbergers – fortunately the hair pulling/anxiety is the only sign right now.
    Have you noticed a general heighten level of anxiety with your daughter to your other kids?

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Luke, Thanks for reaching out! I’m sorry that you’re going through the same thing!! We don’t notice her being any more anxious than other kids her age, though I can definitely see it being a reaction to anxiety for other kids. I hope the sleeves work for your son!

  12. Kelsey says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I found your site searching for hair pulling as we are going through this with our 2 year old daughter. I just ordered the scratch sleeves and am hoping for the best. You have provided some relief for this stressed out mama. Thank you again.

  13. Lauren says:

    Hi Sarah!! Thank you so much for posting this about your daughter pulling her hair out. I truly have been so embarrassed and defensive when people point out my daughters thinning hair or look at her differently. I am trying the tight mittens tonight, we have put like nylon socks on her hands but she got those off so fingers crossed this works for us. Did you think the scratch sleeves worked better than the tight mittens? Thanks again so much for being a brave mom and posting this!

    • Donna says:

      I hope your daughter stops pulling her hair out. She will find a way to deal with stressed. My grandson is 20 months and he sucks on his pacifier& pulls his hair. His hair is short but he can still find some to pull. What I am concerned about is if hair pulling is stress related or anxiety. Wouldn’t covering their hands make him more frustrated?.If that helps him what& how will he react if he can’t do it? This is so hard for everyone.

  14. Brittany Flanary says:

    I am so happy to have come across this post. Although it’s a couple years old and I hope your sweet Avery has broken her habit, it has helped me to cope with my Avery’s hair pulling. We just ordered our Scratch Sleeves, but in the mean time, we have sewn socks onto her pajama sleeves. Unfortunate for us, Avery has developed a hair ball from consuming the pulled hair. We have an endoscopy this week to remove the bezoar. Thank you, again, for sharing your story.

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