“You do what?” was my response when my 11 year old daughter told me that she pulled her hair when she was stressed. “You mean, out?”
“Yes, Momma. When I’m stressed, I pull my hair out,” was her response. I wish I could tell you that I gave her a hug and calmly told her that we would figure this out, but I didn’t. My response went something like this,
“Stop doing that! That’s not good for you, Allison. I’m glad that that bald spot is where it can be covered with a pony tail.” I didn’t intend to be insensitive or harsh. In that moment, I didn’t know what to say much less how to process what she had just confessed to me.
Allison had always twirled her hair around her fingers. When she was about 2 years old, I decided to put her hair in two piggytails for the first time. As I gathered her hair on one side of her head, I noticed it was very thin. I leaned in closer and realized that she had very little hair there. How strange! I tried brushing the hair up on the other side of her head and noticed the same thing. Then it hit me: the balls of hair that I had seen on her bedroom floor and in our suburban had been hers! While twirling her hair, Allison had pulled out the majority on both sides of her head. Horrified, I immediately grabbed the scissors and cut her hair in a short boy’s haircut. I was certain that if her hair was short enough, she couldn’t twirl it or pull it out, right? I needed to stop this habit before it started! As her hair grew back in, she resumed twirling it, but I never noticed those bothersome bald spots or hairballs on the floors again.
I had totally forgotten about Allison pulling her hair out until that day she confessed to me a couple of months ago. I realized then that I had often seen her playing with her hair, but never processed it as something to be concerned about. Now, I remembered seeing her chewing on the bottom of her braids or holding a piece of hair between her fingers and chewing on it, but she always stopped when I pointed out what she was doing. I had even occasionally noticed a ball of hair on the floor when sweeping several times, but never connected it with Allison. I thought that that was normal with two daughters!
I knew I needed to do some research, but was reluctant to turn on my computer. I had no idea what to even call what she did! Guilt and panic threatened to overwhelm me. Why was my child doing this? How had I missed it? What if this was my fault? My fingers felt as if they had lead weights on them. I had had my own experience with stress and anxiety 10 years ago. What if this was related to my own experience with anxiety when I was pregnant with her? Overwhelmed by all the search results that came up, I decided to talk to our family doctor when I was there for one of the other kid’s scheduled appointments the next day.
After hearing my story, the doctor told me that Allison most likely had anxiety and trichotillomania. Trichotillomania referred to Allison’s compulsion to pull her hair out when she was stressed. I went home empowered. I wasn’t a bad parent. I hadn’t done this to her. Although heredity can certainly play a part in the development of anxiety and trichotillomania, it was only one factor of many. I left our family doctor’s office armed with an appointment with a pediatrician for the following Monday and a prescription to stop worrying before I actually knew what was going on.
It is now several months later. We haven’t found any answers yet, but I am definitely more knowledgeable. As we are working with our pediatrician, I am continuing to read and research online. I am also more aware of Allison’s anxiety level. Prior to her confession about pulling her hair out, I hadn’t realized that she had anxiety at all. Now, I can more clearly see her anxious episodes and help her through them. Anxiety and trichotillomania are much more common in children than I realized. And, having either one is certainly not a death sentence.