Wednesday, July 15, 2009


My friend, Megan, sent me this article recently: Hair Pulling: My Hands Were My Enemies.

I've touched on Annabelle's hair-pulling propensity before, but I don't know if I've ever given the full background on it.

When she was still a baby, probably around 9 or 10 months old, she started pulling her eyelashes out. I would notice her doing it when I was nursing her. It freaked me out a little. However, after a while, it seemed like she had stopped doing it. Around that time, purely by chance, Michael and I came across a documentary on TV about a condition called Trichotillomania. I had never heard of it before and had no idea that there were people out there who had a compulsion to pull their hair out. I remember feeling scared, remembering Annabelle's recent eyelash-pulling phase, and relieved that she seemed to be past it. However, it was only a short time later that she began twirling her hair. It went hand-in-hand (and still does) with finger sucking: she sucks the two middle fingers of her left hand while twirling/pulling her hair with the index finger of her right hand. I know there was a period when she was a toddler when I did realize that she was not only twirling her hair, but also pulling it out. I brought it up to our pediatrician who assured me that it's a common habit among small children, and most of them eventually outgrow it. I frequently had to trim Annabelle's hair because she would twirl knots into it. This is why Annabelle's hair has always been so much shorter than Daisy's, or even Lilah's.

It's hard to say exactly when, but at some point during the last year, it became clear that Annabelle was pulling her hair out in earnest. I have heard the sickening sound of her ripping the hair out of her own scalp. I have seen the locks of pulled out hair in her bed and scattered on the floor. It's difficult to put into words the feelings this evokes in me, as her mother. Heartbreak. Frustration. Anger. Sadness. Helplessness. It's really a form of self-mutilation when you get right down to it. How is a parent supposed to feel knowing their child is engaging in such self-destructive behavior - and can't seem to help it?

I first tried that nasty-tasting stuff you buy to stop thumb sucking. I thought if I could break her of the finger-sucking, the hair-pulling would stop too. But she really didn't mind putting that stuff in her mouth. I began wrapping her fingers in tape quite a while ago in an attempt to break her of both the finger-sucking and the hair pulling. Kevin was a thumb sucker, and we were able to break him of that by keeping his thumb wrapped in a Band-aid for a few weeks. With Annabelle, though, it does only seem to be a "Band-aid" solution. The moment the tape comes off, the fingers go into her mouth and into her hair. If I stay on top of it and keep her fingers wrapped around the clock, her hair grows. And in fact, I didn't have to trim her hair for about 6 months just this year because I was keeping her fingers taped, she wasn't pulling, and her hair was growing out nicely.

With everything else going on lately, though, I've become lax about the tape. And one day recently when I was washing her hair, I discovered that she had gone on a hair-pulling frenzy and pulled half the hair out on one side of her head. I just wanted to cry - I think I did cry. How can my little girl be doing this to herself?? I don't have any answers.

I had to cut all of her hair very short just to even it all out:

She cried the entire time.

I know she still looks cute with her short, short hair, but that's really not the point. I am at a loss about this. I don't want her to grow up with this uncontrollable compulsion. I imagine that at some point we're going to have to get into some kind of behavioral therapy.

I just don't know if I can handle one more thing right now.


Leigh Anne said...

one of my student's had a daughter who had trichotillomania. she's almost 4 now, if i recall correctly. i know that her daughter wears special things that fit over her thumb and index finger to keep her from being able to grasp (and then pull). it has been working really well.

Anonymous said...

My son is 6 and still sucks his thumb, though he is not a hair puller. We paid the orthodontist $450 - out of pocket - to get an appliance installed in the roof of his mouth. He has stopped sucking and the thing will stay in at least 6 months - long enough to break the habit. It was a bit spendy, but well worth it. If I could do it all over again I would have done this 2 years ago.

Molly C said...

I have a friend with Trich. I'm sorry that you are fretting about it.

Here are some links I found, idk if they will help or not, but i hope so!

Anonymous said...

I twirled my hair as a child and had very short hair growing up, as a result. My hair was shorter than most of the boys in grade school. I hated it. But, if it is was any longer, I would twirl it until it got into a huge knot and/or my finger would get stuck. I never pulled it out. Seemly it was something I outgrew over time. I was able to grow out my hair around age 8. I still like the feel of hair though. Hopefully, Annabelle will outgrow it too, with time.


Carla said...

Jeez, Lisa, not only don't you need another thing on your plate, you need a whole heap of stuff taken off of it. I hope that some of the other peoples posts and links prove helpful to you. Hugs.

Mer said...

I don't know if you've ever gotten the One Step Ahead catalogue, but they have a device that will fit over the two middle fingers of a child's hand to help stop them from sucking on those two fingers. It might be an easier option for you than trying to keep her fingers taped all the time. (HUGS) I hope it gets better Lisa.

Zoï SPSS Mittens said...
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D said...

Hello there - I actually stumbled upon your blog while googling trichotillomania, and wanted to leave a comment (sorry if it's now obscurely in the past). I've been dealing with trich since I was a kid, and am now in my twenties, still dealing with it. I've done a bit of research on it, including a psych paper, and have some experience with various behavioral modification methods to control it, some of which have helped limit the severity of my trich. If you want me to send along some resources or have questions on it, please let me know and I'd be more than happy to help. There should be some sort of link to contact me via my blog. If not, no worries, good luck all the same!

Lisa said...

D - thanks for the comment. No, it's not obscurely in the past - we're dealing with it every day! Whatever info you could send my way would be much appreciated! There's a link to my email in the sidebar of my blog. Thank you!

vanessa said...

I am 29 and am recovering from Trich. I don't know why I started at the age of 8, but I'm terrified that my son will get it since both my mother and aunt have it.

There is not a LOT of information out there, but what is can hopefully help you help your daughter.