Child Pulling Hair Out When Stressed


It can be alarming for a parent or caregiver to see a child pulling their own hair out in moments of stress. This behaviour is known as trichotillomania, a condition that affects both children and adults of all ages.

Understanding the causes, signs and treatment of trichotillomania can help parents and caregivers to manage this worrying behaviour in children and promote positive ways of coping.

What is Trichotillomania?

Trichotillomania is a repetitive behaviour that compulsively involves pulling out one’s hair. Often the hair pulling serves as a coping mechanism for dealing with stress, anxiety or boredom. Trichotillomania can lead to hair loss or bald patches in children, which can cause social or emotional distress due to the stigma attached to baldness.

The condition often starts in childhood or adolescence and usually affects girls more than boys. Although the exact cause of trichotillomania is unknown, experts believe that genetics, environmental factors, and chemical imbalances in the brain may play a role in its development.

Signs and Symptoms of Trichotillomania

If you notice your child repeatedly pulling their hair out in moments of stress, it may be a warning sign of trichotillomania. Some other common signs and symptoms of trichotillomania include:

– Pulling hair from the scalp, eyebrows or eyelashes
– Feeling a sense of relief or pleasure after pulling out hair
– Feeling ashamed or embarrassed about the hair pulling behaviour
– Developing bald patches on the scalp or other areas of the body
– Spending excessive time grooming or manipulating hair
– Avoiding social activities or covering up bald spots with hats or hairpieces.

It is important to note that hair pulling can occur in children who do not have trichotillomania, so it’s essential to consult with a doctor or mental health professional if your child shows any signs of hair pulling.

Causes of Trichotillomania in Children

As mentioned earlier, the exact cause of trichotillomania is unknown. However, several factors may contribute to its development. These include:

– Genetics: Trichotillomania tends to run in families, suggesting that certain genes may be associated with the condition.

– Environmental factors: Traumatic events, such as a death in the family, divorce or abuse, may trigger hair pulling behaviour in some children.

– Chemical imbalances in the brain: Trichotillomania may be associated with imbalances in chemicals (neurotransmitters) that regulate mood, behaviour and cognition.

Treatment of Trichotillomania in Children

Treatment for trichotillomania in children usually involves a combination of medication, therapy and behavioural interventions. The primary goal of treatment is to help the child stop pulling out hair and learn healthier ways of coping with stress.

Medication: Rarely, medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed to treat trichotillomania in children. These medications have been shown to help reduce hair pulling behaviour in some patients.

Therapy: Several types of therapy can be used to treat trichotillomania, including cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and habit reversal training (HRT). CBT works by helping the child identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviours that contribute to hair pulling. HRT teaches the child alternative behaviours to do when they feel like pulling out their hair.

Behavioural interventions: Parents and caregivers can help manage trichotillomania by providing a distraction or substitute behaviour to the child when they feel the urge to pull their hair. For example, engaging in physical activities, such as sports or yoga, can help channel the child’s energy into a healthier outlet.


Trichotillomania is a common condition that affects children and adults of all ages. Although it can be a distressing behaviour for both children and their parents, there are effective treatments available to help manage this condition.

If your child exhibits any signs of trichotillomania, it’s essential to seek the help of a doctor or mental health professional to determine the best course of treatment. By working together, parents, caregivers and healthcare providers can help children learn healthy coping mechanisms and promote emotional and social well-being.


FAQs: Child Pulling Hair Out When Stressed

1. Why might a child pull out their own hair when stressed?

It is believed that hair pulling, or Trichotillomania, is a way for some people, including children, to manage their emotions when they are feeling stressed or anxious. By pulling out their hair, they may experience a brief relief from their negative emotions. However, this behaviour can become a compulsive habit that can be difficult for the child to stop, and may require professional intervention.

2. How can parents help their child who is pulling their hair out when stressed?

As a parent, it is important to approach your child with empathy and understanding, rather than judgement or anger. Talk to your child about their feelings and encourage them to express themselves in healthy ways, such as through talking, drawing or writing. Encourage your child to engage in activities that promote relaxation and stress-relief, such as exercise or meditation. Seeking the advice of a healthcare professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, may also be beneficial.

3. Can hair pulling be a symptom of a larger medical or psychological condition?

Yes, hair pulling can be a symptom of other underlying medical or psychological conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is important for parents to seek the advice of a healthcare professional if they suspect that their child’s hair pulling is a symptom of a larger condition, as treatment and management strategies may be different.


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