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Is hair-pulling common - or should I be worried?

My 1 year old daughter tends to pull her own hair.  Is this a sign of anxiety?  How can I convince her to stop? Should I be concerned?

Robert Woodford | Pediatrician

Robert Woodford

It is unclear whether your daughter is simply pulling at her hair or pulling her hair out of her head. 
In young children, it is not uncommon for them to pull at their hair or twirl their hair. Playing with the hair is often associated with thumb sucking and is thought to be a relaxing behavior.  Pulling at the hair is usually self-limited and of brief duration.

A young toddler who pulls out her hair from the scalp, eyelashes, or eyebrows is much less common and is of greater concern. This behavior may be reflect family or environmental stress.

I have seen this in my practice with a change in caregiver settings and during a prolonged absence of a mother who was in the armed services. A supportive, structured and predictable environment is essential.  Initially, ignoring the behavior, rather than drawing attention to it is beneficial. 

A child of this age cannot be convinced to stop, as they have not developed the ability to have rational thought.  Nagging, raising one’s voice, being critical of the child, threatening to cut the child’s hair off and making the child wear a tight cap are not beneficial, and often make matters worse by increasing tension. Although parents often resist the idea of seeking the advice of a child clinical psychologist, early referral is essential, before this behavior becomes a habit. The outcome is best if referral is made within a few weeks of onset of this behavior.

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