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My Toddler Is Pulling Out Hair...Her OWN

My Toddler Is Pulling Out Hair…Her OWN

By Amalah


When I wrote to you a few weeks ago I thought sleep training my one year old was as good as it gets. But now we have a real crisis on our hands! I checked your archives and can’t see a similar query, so please answer this one…maybe you or your excellent commenters can help us.

Our adorable 2.5 year old daughter has always been sweet and easy-going and happy. We recently moved and took an international trip in the space of a week, so things have been hectic here. But we have been settled for three weeks now in our new home. For the last two weeks she has become a terrific terror. I attributed her mischief to the fact that we had just moved, tearing up photos and peeling off wallpaper and coloring on doors, and tried to distract her and redirect.

Well, the mischief got too much so I put her back in the crib for naps (she switched to a bed around the time we moved). This seemed to be going perfectly, as she has always been a child who enjoyed taking naps. Until I noticed tufts of hair on the floor around the crib and her bed (where she sleeps at night).

She is pulling out her hair! In the space of two weeks, she has bald spots:( I’ve watched her do it: she snuggles up with her fingers in her mouth as per her usual wont and then rubs her other hand on the sheet. Then right before dropping off, she runs her fingers through her hair and pulls out a tuft which she then plays with until she is sleeping. It’s a very gentle tug, not a yank and she seems very placid the whole time.

She only pulls at nap/bedtime and only a little bit each time. But it is already so disturbingly noticeable.

Please help me figure out how to distract her and stop this depressing behavior. I really want it to stop before it becomes a strong habit.

Thank you!

Believe it or not, this is a very common habit for toddlers. While it looks bizarre and painful and a tad disturbing, hair twirling/pulling is a self-comforting/soothing habit, akin to thumbsucking or bouncing/bumping their head against the mattress.

And the good news, most toddlers will lose the habit all on their own. Like most nervous tics or bad habits, it’s best not to make a huge scolding deal about it. Shame will lead to self-consciousness, which will lead to more anxiety, and thus an even deeper/stronger need for her to self-soothe via her compulsion of choice.

And oh yes, this is very much tied to stress and likely a by-product of her recent move. Hooray! She’s treating her hair like a blanket or lovey, basically. So here’s what I would suggest you try:

  1. Get her a new very special soft furry toy to take to bed. Possibly furry enough to mimic the length and feel of her own hair. Or if stuffed animals aren’t her thing, a doll with super realistic hair, or perhaps something from the Taggies line of toys/blankets. She’s old enough to safely have some toys or small blankies in the crib with her, so try to give her something else to fidget with instead of her own hair.
  2. If toy/loveys don’t work, um…consider leaving a hair clump for her. Kind of gross, but since she’s playing with the yanked out tufts of hair, maybe she’d be content to skip the yanking if she can go straight to whatever tactile satisfaction she gets from playing with the hair?
  3. Take a look at her pre-nap and bedtime routine and see if there’s anything you can do to up the relaxation/de-stress factors. Add some lavender or aromatherapy to her bath, having some soothing music playing in her room.
  4. Despite her recent jag into toddler terrordom, make sure she’s getting as much positive attention from you as humanly possible. Praise her whenever she’s  doing ANYTHING “right,” don’t overreact to the negative behaviors (try to turn to stone if you can), and give lots and lots of hugs and kisses and one-on-one time. This will help her work through the transitional stress and help you get to the root cause of the hair pulling.
  5. Cut her hair shorter. I’m ranking this one low and would personally consider it a last resort, but several articles/parenting forums that address this issue ultimately do recommend it. A very short haircut will make the pulling/playing less tempting and satisfying…but I just want to add the important caveat that drastically changing a toddler’s appearance can be upsetting/stressful in and of itself. (Says the mother of a long-haired little boy for whom the hair is an important part of his identity and self-image, and even trimming it is an exercise in horror.) If she were a bit older it’d be easier to explain the necessity of the haircut in a matter-of-fact way, because honey, you have bald spots on your head. I’ll leave this one up to you (and welcome the opinions of the commenters)…if it can be done in an non-upsetting/punishment or “shame-y” way, it might be the most practical roadblock to throw at the habit.

Good luck, and I will reiterate that this IS a very, very common toddler habit, and very likely a very temporary one. Offer as many self-soothing/de-stressing alternatives as you can and continue to help her work through all the changes and feelings that are at the root of her anxiety in general. And maybe go on Etsy and buy some really cute hats for in the meantime.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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