Skip to main content

This one sure signal your toddler feels out of control

Toddler pulling hair may mean they're feeling out of control

Toddler pulling their hair
Westend61 / Getty Images

The toddler years are full of development and discovery that can often be a bit overwhelming for them at times. Let’s face it, toddlers are inundated with new experiences almost daily, which can often lead to some behaviors you may find troubling. As a result, they can often become frustrated as they try to process all this new information. They don’t call them the ‘terrible twos’ for nothing!

While temper tantrums and meltdowns come hand in hand with having a toddler, there are other behaviors that may be a sign that they’re not quite feeling like themselves. If your toddler is pulling their own hair, it may be because they feel out of control, which can be completely understandable. Toddlers pulling their hair is a very common behavior and is often a form of self-soothing that helps them cope with stressful situations. If you’ve noticed your toddler has begun to pull their hair, there are some things you can do to help.

toddler pulling her hair and sucking her thumb
Shaw Photography Co. / Getty Images

Is it normal for toddlers to pull their hair?

For many toddlers, pulling their hair, twirling their hair, or simply playing with their hair is a pretty common experience, especially during times when they may seem stressed or are looking for some form of comfort. For many, there’s a fascination with the discovery of a new texture, and twirling or pulling their hair may be as comforting as sucking their thumb.

As Kids+ Pediatrics notes, most toddlers outgrow the habit of pulling and twirling their hair typically by the age of 3 or 4. However, hair pulling can also be a sign of trichotillomania, or trich, for short, which is a disorder characterized by the pulling of hair. According to Child Mind Institute, trich can result in children having the uncontrollable urge to pull their hair without them even realizing they’re doing it.

Kid playing with push pop fidget toy
Yulia Naumenko/Getty Images

How do I stop my 2-year-old from pulling their hair?

It can be hard to watch your toddler pull their own hair, but experts have some suggestions on how to help curb the behavior. BabyCenter writes that some experts may recommend a form of cognitive therapy that can include limiting your child’s ability to actually pull their hair while also providing a different form of comfort, like a stuffed animal or ribbon to play with.

Kids+ Pediatrics recommends parents try to make note of when their child is pulling their hair. Is it normally when they’re sleepy or bored, or has there been some stress, like the arrival of a new sibling or a new daycare setting that may have caused the hair-pulling? If that’s the case, maybe a bit more attention and cuddles can help curb the behavior.

Knowing when a toddler is more likely to pull their hair can help parents proactively distract from the behavior or substitute a different item to give them the sensory stimulation they may need. The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors suggests using small gloves or character Band-Aids on the toddler’s thumbs to help limit their ability to pull their hair while also giving them something fun and colorful to look at.

A little girl pulling at her hair clip.
Boryana Manzurova / Shutterstock

How do you discipline a toddler who pulls hair?

It’s important not to shame or scold your toddler for pulling their hair. Instead, experts suggest trying to divert their attention or distract them. Psychotherapist Lucia Wallis Smith specializes in the treatment of anxiety and discussed with PopSugar some ways she was able to help her own daughter. “In our experience, it worked to replace the hair pulling with another activity, such as using a fidget or stress ball,” she said. “We also discussed the hair pulling with our daughter without shaming her — just labeling it a habit she could replace with something that would still be calming and wouldn’t change her appearance so drastically.”

Amy Nasamran, Ph.D., licensed child psychologist and founder of Atlas Psychology, also explained to PopSugar that you may not want to call too much attention to the behavior. “Instead, teach a healthier coping skill, like taking a break or going outside for deep breaths. Then reward your toddler for making choices other than hair pulling when they’re frustrated.”

A little girl with her hands in her hair.
Ground Picture / Shutterstock

How do I stop my child from pulling her hair?

Many toddlers will outgrow the habit of pulling their hair, while others can get help with some form of cognitive therapy. BabyCenter warns trich is often misdiagnosed as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but it’s not. Trich is treatable without medication, while OCD is often helped with the use of medication.

The experts at Trichstop suggest parents tell their children they would like them to stop hair-pulling. Parents should observe their children for a week, tracking the times when they are most likely to pull their hair. This can help parents be proactive in curbing hair pulling by providing distractions or removing them from situations that may trigger hair pulling. It also suggests giving toddlers fidget toys or other soothing objects to help keep their hands busy. Cutting your child’s hair short or having her wear a hat can help make your toddler aware of her behavior as well.

A little upset boy pulling at his hair.
Westend61 on Offset / Shutterstock

What to look for

You may not always notice that your child is hair-pulling, especially younger children and infants who may tend to pull their hair while in their crib or bed. What to Expect suggests that common symptoms of hair-pulling include:

  • Uneven hair loss, bald patches, or sudden hair loss
  • Finding lots of hair in your child’s room, crib, or bed
  • Constantly having her hands in her hair or near her head

Although trichotillomania is more common in children over the age of 12, younger children can be impacted by it. According to Child Mind Institute, the following behaviors may be a sign of trichotillomania:

  • Uneven or one-sided hair loss
  • Suddenly losing a lot of hair
  • A lot of hair on the floor or pillows in the child’s room
  • Constantly holding their hands near their head
  • Wearing hats or other cover-ups because they don’t want others to see their bald spots
  • Constantly looking in the mirror
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling ashamed about what they look like or because they can’t stop pulling out hair

Hair pulling can be very normal behavior, but if your efforts to curb the behavior aren’t successful and your toddler is pulling hair from her eyelids, eyebrows, and other parts of her body, it may be time to consult your pediatrician.

Editors' Recommendations

Kelli Catana
Kelli is a freelance writer who has covered the world of entertainment, pop culture, parenting, and lifestyle for various…
Why do toddlers cry in their sleep and how can you help them?
Learn the facts so everyone gets a good night's rest
A toddler sleeping in the bed.

Have you ever woken in the middle of the night to your toddler's cries, only to discover by the time you've run to check on them they are back asleep? If so, you're not alone. If your typical happy-go-lucky toddler is suddenly crying out in their sleep, it may make parents worried something may be wrong. As if toddler behavior isn't difficult enough to figure out when they're awake, parents need to know why toddlers cry in their sleep.

The good news is toddlers crying in their sleep is a normal part of their development and doesn't mean there's anything troubling your child you should be concerned about. In fact, this behavior has a variety of different causes. Learn some of the reasons why toddlers cry in their sleep and if there's anything to do to help prevent it, so everyone gets a good night's sleep.

Read more
Why do toddlers wake up crying? A few alarming things might be going on
Tips to help you understand this behavior
Toddler girl having a night terror

It isn't uncommon for toddlers to sometimes wake up crying. It can be unsettling for parents and children, whether it happens in the middle of the night or early in the morning. If you're a parent going through it now, we feel you. Thankfully, these instances are normally a one- or two-night ordeal, and they're usually caused by a disruption to your child's sleep routine.

A young tot that consistently wakes up crying is concerning for any parent. Not only does this disrupt your own routine, but it creates a difficult and sometimes frustrating environment for everybody else in the home. There are a few reasons why toddlers wake up crying, and there are steps for parents and guardians to take to try to remedy this predicament. Let’s dive into a few of those underlying issues so parents can work out the kinks of their child’s teary times so everyone in the house can get a restful night's sleep.

Read more
Is your toddler’s hair growing slowly? Here are some tips to promote hair growth
Healthy hacks for slow growing hair
Brushing a toddler's hair

Some babies are born with a full head of hair while others come into the world with a bald head. Whichever camp your baby falls into, you've probably read the books and learned early on about the many benefits of brushing your baby's hair regularly. But, as you draw near the 1-year-old mark, you may start to worry about whether your toddler's hair is just growing slowly, or not at all. Is there a range of what's normal for baby and toddler hair growth? Yes! This is because of a baby's individual DNA. So, there's no need to stress either way.

It’s completely normal for babies to have very little to no hair during their first year. After their first birthday comes and goes, you may wonder why there's no active hair growth. Many factors determine how fast hair grows. If your baby is still sporting wispy strands by the time they are in the toddler stage, there's probably no need to worry.

Read more