When Kids Pull Out Their Hair and Scratch Their Skin
This is more than just picking at your nails. Some kids pull out their hair, their eyebrows and scratch at their skin so much that it causes bald spots and scarring. It’s called Trichotillomania and Dermatillomania.
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“WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT? STOP!”
That’s what I told my child when I discovered they were picking their skin. No, picking at their skin doesn’t describe it. It’s more than just picking skin. It’s picking at the body so much that it leaves bald spots, scarring and can even strike blood. It’s called Trichotillomania and Dermatillomania.
Hello, my name is Kristina Campos. I am the founder of the Impactful Parent. Every week I give you parenting videos that can help you in your parenting journey. If you have a particular topic or parenting question about your school-aged child that you would like me to address, please submit it at [email protected] or by messaging me on social media. All submissions are kept anonymous.
Today, I will talk about a common disorder where kids pull out their hair called Trichotillomania or pick at their skin called Dermatillomania. These are mental health conditions that causes people to pull out their hair, scratch their bodies, or pick at their skin. They are chronic conditions and can be hard to manage, but there are ways you can help a child who’s struggling with it. Learn the signs and symptoms, its causes, and treatment options. Plus- stick around until the end. I will finish by giving parents tips to support their children struggling with Trichotillomania and Dermatillomania. Let’s get started!
What it is: Trichotillomania, also known as a hair-pulling disorder, is known for its irresistible urges to pull out hair from your own body. People with Trichotillomania may pull out their hair from ANY part of the body at any time of day. The most common areas to pull are the scalp and eyebrows. Still, people with Trichotillomania have also been known to pull out eyelashes, facial hair, nipple hair, chest hair, armpit hair, leg or arm hair, and even pubic hair- despite trying to stop. Similarly, Dermatillomania is the impulsive urge to scratch, dig, squeeze or rub at the skin obsessively. They are obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), and can cause bald spots and sometimes even permanent scarring.
Signs and Symptoms: Besides the obvious signs of hair loss and baldness, Trichotillomania can cause hair regrowth to be thinner or even missing altogether. Dermatillomania looks like scars, scratches, scabs, and different types of flesh wounds. People with either of these disorders may have high anxiety, skin damage, difficulty concentrating, and even panic attacks. Many suffer from depression. Identifying and treating these disorders is important. It shouldn’t be ignored as a phase or weird habit. And although many kids will dismiss their habit to adults as “not a big deal,” it is also common for kids with these conditions to feel embarrassed about pulling out their hair and worry about what other people might think about them. Many children will hide the evidence by wearing hats, scarves, and long sleeves to cover up their bald spots and wounds.
Causes: The exact cause is unclear, but it is believed to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some possible factors include genetics, DNA mutations, changes in brain chemistry, family history, and the sensation of hair or skin that feels different from the rest. Trichotillomania and Dermotillomania are types of coping mechanisms usually the result of stress, anxiety, or depression.
Treatment Options: The primary treatment is habit reversal training, a behavioral therapy type. This therapy helps individuals recognize situations where they are likely to pull their hair. It teaches them to substitute other behaviors instead. For instance, clenching fists can help stop the urge to pull hair. Other treatments may include seeing a dermatologist to treat related skin problems or damage. Some children may be candidates to get additional help from a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who can help with skin grafting for affected areas of the body. Certain medications may also be prescribed by a doctor, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors; however, mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, support groups, and other coping strategies are usually tried first.
Having said all this, getting help from a healthcare professional is imperative. Consult a mental health professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Treating hair loss or skin wounds are really only a Band-Aid. It is crucial to discover the reason beyond the hair pulling, scratching, and picking to treat the anxiety, depression, or other root cause.
How to Support Loved Ones:
- Reduce stress: Since Trichotillomania and Dermotillomania can often be a stress response in children, parents should consider reducing stress at home.
- Detox methods: Some children can benefit from a gentle detox method to remove harmful heavy metals, chemicals, and toxins from their bodies.
- Cognitive-behavioral approaches: Cognitive-behavioral approaches such as Habit Reversal Therapy (HRT) in tandem with stimulus control are the first-line treatment for Trichotillomania and have consistently demonstrated efficacy in research trials.
- Increase awareness: Therapy can involve helping a child recognize thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with hair pulling. This therapy aims to increase the awareness of hair pulling and replace it with alternative behaviors.
- Stay patient. This can be a very frustrating disorder for parents. Often, parents don’t understand why their children can’t just stop pulling out their hair. Work on empathy and patients as you help your child deal with this real OCD disorder, and support them the best you can with your love.
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But until next time, you got this, parents. I am just here to help.
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