You have discovered that your child or loved one is pulling out their hair or eyelashes. It’s distressing, and frankly confusing. And you are wondering:
Why does my child pull her hair out?
Your child most likely suffers from Trichotillomania, an impulse control disorder. Sufferers are unable to stop this behavior, and it is often self-destructive and distressing to the individual.
It is important to understand from the very beginning that a child’s hair pulling is serious condition and more than just a nervous habit, which can be controlled through simply by deciding to stop.
Research of causes and treatments of Trichotillomania are still in the early stages, and no one is really sure what causes Trich. Most likely there are several different causes that may act separately or as a combined cause. It could be a neurobiological disorder and may be linked to one’s genetic makeup. At times it is triggered by stress, anxiety and depression. This is not self-mutilation. Children pull because it feels good or fills some kind of need, but hardly ever because they want to become ugly or to purposely disfigure themselves.
And it’s nothing that you did as a parent.
It is believed that 2-5% of the population pull their hair or eyelashes (you see, your child is not alone, or really that strange at all!) and 80-90% of reported cases are women, although in children the percentage is closer to a 50-50% ratio of girls to boys. The average age of onset is 11, however pulling can start at any age. Some children may stop on their own. However, many do not, and we encourage parents to understand the condition fully and to get involved in finding a treatment as soon as possible. The earlier neural patterns that develop during habits are altered, the easier it will be for your child to be cured.
As a parent you will go through a variety of emotions, and just the ups and downs can be very wearing on parents and children alike. You will feel frustration and despair, followed by elation when they start to improve, only to be disappointed when your child starts pulling again. You will probably not understand what is going on and not really believe that your child cannot control his or her behavior. You will most likely feel embarrassed by your child’s appearance, sometimes to the extent of not wanting to talk about it, even with health care professionals. You will probably also feel guilt, as if there is something that you could have done differently that would change the situation. You may also feel overwhelmed and confused by all of the conflicting advice and thoughts. While all of these feelings are perfectly natural reactions, you must first understand the condition fully in order to dispel these emotions and replace them with more constructive and positive feelings of hope, encouragement and positivism.
Belief is key in treatment of habits and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD).
There have been many studies around why groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are effective, and there is very strong evidence that an important factor is seeing others who have achieved a goal. Being in a group that cultivates positivism and a ‘can do’ attitude has a huge impact on eventual success. Therefore it is important to both stay positive for your child, as well as to surround the child with positive support groups and role models.
Just remember, your child will also be going through his own set of (often very similar) emotions, such as shame, guilt and not being able to understand why he cannot stop.
In this case you need to be a strong support for your child to be able to work through his emotions with you, without judgment or your own baggage interfering. In order to do this you must understand the condition and have complete compassion for the sufferer.
Have you ever tried to stop smoking, chew on your fingernails or follow a diet? If so then you know that often these things are much more difficult than they look. With this in mind, put yourself in your child’s shoes and exhibit compassion at all times when dealing with your child.
Compassion if key
Your child will pick up on your own attitude and outlook. A sense of confidence and belief in your child, coupled with compassion and understanding will make recovery not only possible, but a less stressful and isolating time for all concerned.
This also goes for you as a parent. Do not beat yourself up, or continually wonder what you have done to cause this. Hair and eyelash pulling is a genuine condition that you did not cause, but that you can help treat.
Your attitude and outlook means everything, and your child will follow your lead.
Helping your child with hair pulling
No matter what the age of your child, your approach should be similar. Your goal is to establish trust in each other, to show your confidence in your child and to boost their self-esteem when they are feeling low, or their confidence when they are discouraged with how their hair pulling treatment is going.
It is very likely that your child doesn’t understand what is going on, and most probably has never heard of Trichotillomania. Explaining what hair pulling is, how many people of all sorts are affected, showing him the websites, resources and stories of others and thus showing him that he is not a freak is an important first step.
Explaining to your son or daughter that you understand what they are going through and that you know that they can’t ‘just stop’ will be a relief to your child who surely feels that no one understands him. You will become a safe haven for your child who will come to you more and more often for help. Show your child that you are there to help them put a structured plan in place and that this will be a gradual, but positive process. Often verbalizing your own experience of difficulties in changing your behavior (whether it be dieting, nail biting, smoking, etc) can show your child better than through words that you understand his situation and that he truly is not alone.
Do not set time limits or ultimatums, or use punishment or rewards. These will only put pressure on your child and often result in more lost confidence when they cannot reach the goals that have been set.
Do we set punishments or rewards for medical conditions?
Above all, never chastise, ridicule or punish your child in hopes that you can control their condition. This will only backfire, making them more secretive and more ashamed, exacerbating the problem.
All of your actions should be based on building confidence and trust in your child. When in doubt, ask yourself if the message you are sending is a constructive, collaborative and positive one that will set your child up for success.
Your philosophy as a parent
This is a good time to re-evaluate your philosophy as a parent. Do you even have one? To be an effective parent, especially in the difficult times, it is good to have a well thought out philosophy of how you want to parent; a philosophy that is in line with your beliefs and goals for your child and family. A philosophy will give very important coherence to your parenting, but will also help you in those frustrating moments when you aren’t sure how to react. In these moments you can always fall back on your beliefs and ask yourself what actions would be in line with that philosophy.
Your philosophy as a parent, and how you treat your children about other subjects will have an impact on your ability to deal with your child’s Trichotillomania. A good way to develop your philosophy is to read books (see our list of recommended resources), talk to parents that you admire and discuss with your parenting partner your goals, and wishes for your children and your parenting.
Think about what values you want to instill and how to exhibit these to your children (children do as you do and not as you say), how you want to discipline, what kind of relationship you see with them in the long run, etc.
For children who pull their hair or eyelashes out, a philosophy of caring support, encouraging confidence and belief, and a strong structure for the child to function in, is the most effective.
Treatment and support for children hair and eyelash pullers
Just as there are many different sufferers of trich, there are many different types of treatments, from medication to self-awareness training. There is no known ‘cure’ for Trichotillomania but there are treatment options available. Discovering ways for children to control hair-pulling impulses can help them become pull free. Cognitive behavior therapy, stress-control medications, and hair and eyelash pulling support groups have all proven as an effective way to control symptoms. Cognitive Behavior Therapy trains patients in self-monitoring, identifying and responding to high-risk solutions, assessing the function of the pull, confronting realizations, and developing mindfulness.
I suggest working with a mix of methods in order to find the one or combination that is most effective for your child’s particular case. Most importantly, it is important for children who suffer from hair pulling to know that although it can be difficult to stop, it is possible!
You will find many different methods in the Trich Stop Manual and Workbook, and we suggest you try all of them with your child. Often a combination of treatments will prove to be the most effective.
Therapy or no?
While we encourage suffers to give therapy a go (after all, we use accountants and lawyers for specialized help, why not a therapist?), many children (and parents for that matter) balk at therapy. It seems to concretize the abnormality and shame. In this case we suggest starting with home methods. Once they are feeling good with the advances they are making, you can try a therapist and see if this is right for your child.
Above all do not force your child to see a therapist for their hair pulling, or do anything in their treatment that they do not want to do. A child’s acceptance is often gradual, and respecting their own rhythm sends the important message that you have confidence in them and will allow them to have at least some control in their own life.
Dealing with setbacks
One last word on setbacks: setbacks are a normal part of the process and you should be prepared, and prepare for your child for them. Aim for gradual healing rather than a radical cold turkey approach, which will only cause frustration and loss of confidence. Retraining the neural patterns as well as putting healing systems in place take time, so allow your family the time to heal together. When your child has a setback, don’t make a big deal out of it. Just pick yourselves back up, dust yourselves off, explain the gradual nature of recovery to your child and start again. Explain to your child that having been able to make any progress at all shows that it is possible. Now it just needs to become ingrained behavior, which it will, with enough time and practice.
Most of all teach your child to be kind to himself.
It IS POSSIBLE
While it’s very difficult for you and your child or loved one, managing the condition is possible. It’s important to understand that the sufferer will always be a hair or eyelash puller, but they can be an ‘ex’ puller.
Your child will need your help, encouragement, patience, guidance and wisdom. But together I know that you can beat Trich. Who knows, perhaps even your relationship will benefit from working through this difficult challenge together.
- Show your confidence in your child as a person
- Compassion and belief are ESSENTIAL
- Try using the Trich Stop Journal and Trich Stop Oil
- Modifying the pulling behavior to stroking (using some sort of all natural oil) is essential to develop new neural pathways and instill long lasting results
- Encourage your child to try many different methods to find the ones that work best for him or her
- Never chastise, punish, ridicule or force your child in any way
I applaud you for supporting your child
I specifically remember pulling out my own eyelashes as a young child. But the most amazing thing to me is that my parents didn’t really even notice. And that is a wake up call to me now as a parent to be vigilant to the small, easily undetected signs that something might not be quite right. Even more of a reason that it’s important to me to get the Trich Stop system into the hands of more Trich sufferers. And not only the hair pullers, but the families of hair pullers. We get a lot of emails, requests and thoughts from the parents and families of young hair pullers and children that pull eyelashes and hair. And the happy thing for me is that the Trich Stop System is helping these young people. But the real thing that is helping them is the underlying support from their caring family and friends. SO, bravo to you if you are reading this in an attempt to find a solution for a family member. We encourage you to keep supporting them, to not judge, point fingers or tell them ‘just to stop’ and to look for structured help, whether it be counseling, a structured suytem like the Trich Stop System, or even better a combination of both.