The day I discovered my little girl was pulling and eating her hair I was horrified. Toddler hair pulling & eating can turn into a very medically concerning problem if continued for long periods of time. In some cases it can require to surgery to remove accumulated hairballs. Not to mention temporary baldness.
Noooo, Not The Hair!
I opened the car door to get her out of her car seat, and there she was with two fists full of beautiful blond hair, eagerly trying to gulp down a several strands she had in her mouth. Quickly, I pulled the hair from her mouth. Then took a deep breath as I wrestled to remove the hair from her tiny fists. Another deep breath and I looked directly into her eyes and calmly said, “We don’t eat hair. It can make you very sick. You won’t be able to poop if you keep eating your hair. Not being able to poop is very painful. If you continue to eat hair and you can’t poop, you won’t be able to eat the foods you like: cheese, yogurt, bananas, dessert. Promise mama you wont eat any more hair, okay?” To which she replied “na poop?” While looking at me skeptically.
Looking at her later that afternoon, after the shock that my toddler eats hair had worn down, I started to suspect that she’d been pulling hair out for a little while. She used to have some pretty curls coming in at the back, bottom of her head. Now there are only two wisps left, one on each side behind her ears.
Queue Manic Mama Mode
Naturally, that night I didn’t sleep, I lay awake listening for the sound of her pulling and eating hair in the next room. What that sounds like, I am not sure – but it kept me awake all night. More importantly, what would possess someone to want to eat hair? Yuck! This led me to think about when and why she pulls her hair.
She always loved to play with my hair when she was nursing. I often wore pigtail braids to keep my hair out of the way when she was an infant. She liked to play with the ends of my pigtails. Now that she is older, she plays with my hair if I carry her in my arms when we’re out and about. She only plays with her own hair in the car and when she is falling asleep, which tells me that boredom and self-soothing factors are at play. Her hair isn’t long enough for me to pull back in a tie. Since I was awake anyway, I decided to do some informal research.
Stop Toddler Hair Pulling & Eating
After an all-nighter Googling what should be done to refocus and undo the toddler hair pulling & eating habit, I came across a several recommendations. Most common suggestion said to ignore the behavior if it happened at times when the child was trying to get attention. Some said redirect by giving the child something tactile to play with. A few articles I read said that it could be a form of pica, if on going, and to ensure the child is getting sufficient iron in their diet. By far the best suggestion for us was posted on the forum netmums.com: add mittens to her wardrobe.
Note: Statements on this blog should not be taken as medical advice. I am not a doctor and do not purport to have any schooling or licensing as such. If you suspect your child has pica or they are a chronic consumer of hair, I encourage you to seek the advice of a medical professional.
Since I believe she pulls hair to self-soothe at night and occasionally due to boredom, I decided to sew mittens onto her pajamas. The next day we played with her socks as puppets on our hands and laughed quite a bit.
Later that night we tried on her new “mitty pjs” and made a big deal of how fun they were. We played sock puppets with them for a few minutes and then finished our bedtime routine as normal. Success! The next morning there was no more hair on her mattress or on the mittens.
The car boredom wasn’t as easy to cure, we bring lots of books and her water sippycup along with us everywhere we go. In addition, we sing songs, play peekaboo at stoplights and talk about things we see on the road. If I hear her being too quite I sneak a peek in the mirror to make sure she isn’t snacking on her hair.
I’ve since sewed some silky mittens to additional pajamas. The finished prodcut isn’t too pretty, but it does the job intended. Here is the pattern I used for my 1 1/2 year old who wears 24 month PJs.
Cut two pieces of silky, breathable fabric, fold over the flat side on each piece, pin and sew down. Next, pin the right sides of the fabric (the smoothest side you want to face out) together so that you are looking at the wrong sides of the fabric. Then sew together with 1/2″ seam allowance. Finally, sew mitten to pajama sleeve, stretching the sleeve a bit as you go. Repeat for the other sleeve. For safety, I wouldn’t use these mitten pjs on a child less than 1.5 years.
Have you had any success with other methods to stop the toddler hair pulling & eating habit? If so, I’d love to hear about it, please share in the comments below!