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Mama Drama: Extreme Hair Pulling

Dear Mama Drama:

I am really worried about my son. He is three years old and has a really hard time handling frustration. When he doesn’t get his way or becomes frustrated with something, he starts pulling out his hair. He has done this so much that he has large bald spots all over his head.

I try to talk with him and get him to stop the hair pulling but nothing seems to work. It seems like the more distressed I get about the behavior the more it increases. My husband and I are at a loss. What should we do?

~Pulled Apart

(photo credit)

Dear Pulled:

Your perception that this is concerning behavior is accurate. Hair pulling of this extreme is not typical behavior and should be addressed with your pediatrician as soon as possible. There are a variety of issues that could be leading to this behavior.

At three many children’s expressive language skills have not yet caught up to their ability to understand what is going on around them. This difficult expressing themselves verbally can cause extreme frustration. If a child’s speech is delayed, this can create even more difficulties. If your son seems to be struggling in this area, having him assessed by a speech therapist is a good idea.

You mention that your son’s hair pulling increases as your distress does the same. He may be recognizing that he is getting attention with this behavior or his anxiety may increase in response to yours. Seeking the support from a mental health professional will help you evaluate this behavior and how you can best support your son.

There is also a compulsive disorder call trichotillomania that involves pulling out one’s own hair. There is a fair amount of information about it online. Some resources you may want to explore are the Trichotillomania Learning Center and The Mayo Clinic.

Whatever the reason your son is pulling out his hair to this extreme, it is imperative that you seek professional support for him and yourself. Early intervention provides opportunities to prevent further damage and teach the skills needed to cope with the difficulties he is facing.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.