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What Causes Trichotillomania in Children?

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  • Written By: Kimberly Sharpe
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2016
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Trichotillomania in children is a mental health disorder that causes a child to compulsively pull out his hair. The sufferer may pull scalp hair, eyelashes and eyebrows to the point of noticeable hair loss. The disorder occurs in children as a result of anxiety, a reaction to stress, a formed habit, or for self-soothing. Trichotillomania in children is an upsetting behavior for the sufferer's parents but does not result in long-term physical injury to the child.

Hair pulling in children often begins between the ages of birth and 2 years. The infant may tug on his hair while nursing, sucking a pacifier or while falling asleep as a means of self-soothing. The infant finds the repetition of the action to be relaxing.

Once the habit is established in infancy, it continues into toddlerhood. The child begins to gauge whether the action upsets the parent. If the child sees that hair pulling frustrates the parent, the child will continue to do it during an angry outburst or tantrum. The pulling may become more violent as the child learns to carry out the action as an act of frustration.

Trichotillomania in children often continues into school age. The child will pull his hair as a habit or it may only happen during periods of anxiety. School-age children who suffer a lack of communication skills tend to secretively pull eyelashes or eyebrows in frustration.

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When trichotillomania continues past the age of 12, the symptoms often show similarities to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Both disorders may occur simultaneously. Trichotillomania that persists into the teenage years often has its roots in the child's need to rebel.

Modifying and treating trichotillomania early in a child's life is often easier than doing so later in life. Substituting a blanket or stuffed animal for the toddler or infant to fondle instead of his hair can help discourage hair pulling. A short haircut or a hat is also a means of discouraging hair pulling early in life.

Trichotillomania in children of early school age or later will require communication and therapy to manage. Behavioral modification therapy and the administration of prescription medications may be required. Teaching the child better ways to deal with stress and regulate emotions can help alleviate the problem.

Ignoring the condition and hoping the child will eventually grow out of it rarely works once the child reaches school age. The disorder becomes a source of shame for the child. As the disorder escalates, the bald patches may become noticeable to the child's schoolmates or others, which can distress the child further. Prompt evaluation and treatment is required to minimize the long-term emotional and physiological ramifications of the mental health disorder.

Trichotillomania in children can horrify parents. An emotional wedge may develop between the parents and the child. Professional mental health counseling can help the family successfully overcome the disorder.

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