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Just started school - HAIR PULLING - any advice welcome!

(20 Posts)
stressystressedmum Sun 02-Oct-11 21:37:24

A friend suggested that I post here for advice, as we are a bit at sea as to how to deal with this.

Eldest daughter has always been a bit shy, but she has always made good friends, and settled into preschool OK (stayed at home with me beforehand, no nursery). She did do some hair twiddling when she started preschool, and had some issues with over-reliance on adults, but the preschool was very good at dealing with her (one teacher in particular who was fantastic).

She is now at proper primary school, and superficially has settled in well. She didn't know any of the other children beforehand, but has made friends already and is always talking about playing in the playground with particular children. She really likes her teacher and has drawn pictures for her from her own initiative. She has put her hand up to answer questions on at least one occasion. And she is doing very well academically (we were concerned that she might clam up and not let the teachers know that she knew stuff already, but that hasn't happened - in fact the opposite, she told her teacher that she didn't need any help, thank you, she could do it all by herself!).

BUT, and it is a big but, she has started hair-twiddling again, but now she makes knots in her hair and pulls at the knots, pulling the hair out at the root. sad sad sad She has always been a child to keep things deep down inside, and so we don't know if there is anything that she is worried about and isn't telling us. sad There aren't any major problems at home, I've spoken to the school, and they don't know of anything (the teacher seemed really on the ball, I really like her), and she doesn't go to a childminder or anything like that, so there isn't any other situation where things could be happening that we don't know about.

Obviously, starting school is a stressful thing itself, and it's been a particularly big deal because it's all so new to her, not knowing any of the other children. She's also only been going for a few weeks, so it's all very new still. We'd really like to sort this out very quickly though, as she has already started getting bald patches and I don't want the other children to start noticing. sad

My husband is very stressed about it all. It's breaking his heart (and mine) to see her so obviously stressed and not to seem to be able to help her. I've googled, and the only good news seems to be that the younger that the child starts, the better the chances of getting them to stop. We just don't know how to get her to stop! There is more, but this is too long already!

Any advice or experiences very gratefully received.

dikkertjedap Sun 02-Oct-11 21:46:57

Could you give her one of these anti-stress balls or just a small soft ball she could squeeze when she feels stressed or alternatively a small bean bag or toy. You may have to check with her teacher that it is okay for her to bring this into school and have it with her in the class. This would hopefully reduce the urge to pull hair. Clearly, then there is still the issue to find out what is bothering her. I assume you and your dh have tried to find out what is bothering her so would it be worth a try whether she would open up more to her grandparents?

stressystressedmum Sun 02-Oct-11 22:00:46

We bought her a toy this weekend - she chose a small soft toy with long furry hair that she can stroke and twiddle. She really likes the toy, but doesn't seem to be in the habit yet.

Granny is coming up this week, so that could be an idea. She really likes Granny. We have tried talking to her about what could be bothering her - as I said, there might not be a "big" issue at all - it could just be the strain of being thrown into an alien situation. I mean, obviously we had prep'd her, but it's still very strange. I find it a strain to start in a new workplace, so at just four I'm not surprised that she does.

The worst bit was that tonight she was getting a bit silly at bed time, and started twirling her hair. It always gets worse when she is tired. I asked her not to pull it out. She looked straight at me, and pulled her hair out, very defiantly. So now we wonder if we've made it worse by drawing her attention to it. sad

talkingnonsense Sun 02-Oct-11 22:03:38

I don't know anything about hair pulling, so this might be no help, but what about trying lots of other stress relievers? Lavender baths, baby massage, bananas- anything she might enjoy?

dikkertjedap Sun 02-Oct-11 22:04:05

She is only four, she may not understand the consequences at all. Have you explained that she is such a lovely girl and has such lovely hair, it would be a pity to damage it. Hopefully she becomes proud of her hair and will look after it. Maybe read Rapunzel?????

stressystressedmum Sun 02-Oct-11 22:27:53

We have tried lavender oil and massages before bedtime. Bedtime routine has now expanded a great deal and so we're rushing to get it all in. A bit counter productive! So we're thinking about changing the entire evening schedule to give us more time.

She is a bright girl, and we've explained about taking care of her lovely hair, but I wonder if she's a bit young to really understand. We also don't want to go in shouting "doom, doom, you're going to be bald!". Even though that's secretly what we fear. sad

Oh, I forgot from the original post - she did admit today that she wants to be her little sister and stay at home all day with me. So there is obviously some jealousy there. I have explained that when she was two, she was home with me, and that when her sister is four, she will be going to school herself. The younger is going to preschool in the new year, so that might help curb the jealousy.

We're trying to introduce some one-on-one adult time for her because we had suspected that she might feel the lack of it. She went out with her Daddy yesterday for a day together, and I did crafts with her today. She has always been at her best when she has undivided adult attention, but obviously that isn't how the real world works with a younger sibling and 29 other reception pupils.

DamselWithADulcimer Sun 02-Oct-11 22:32:35

Probably dead loss advice here, but DS did the same when he started school (he's an anxious child generally), so I had his hair cut really short so he couldn't pull it out. I had it cut every six weeks to keep it that way. When the summer holidays came and he grew it a bit more, he had completely lost the habit and it has never come back (we're now three years on). You obviously wouldn't want your DD to have a crew cut - but would something shorter help for the duration ("nice, grown-up haircut")? It might break the habit and she could then grow it long again.

Yourefired Sun 02-Oct-11 22:51:03

Step back, you're treating the symptoms not the cause. I have an anxious DD and have found the best way of helping her is to, as the psychologists put it, nurture her ego strengths. Lots to google on this, but in essence it's about giving people the courage/strength to realise that they have control over their environment, responses to their environment, and the way they think about their environment. She sounds like a much cared for, lovely girl who is trying too hard to please everyone. I do understand (our symptom was nightmares, I mean real nightmares where you have to wrap them soaking wet it a duvet and two adults and ten cuddly toys surround them) but lots of reassurance (you are so wanted by you school etc), concentrating on positives and a little bit of bravado has helped. Involve the school, they can support you. Good luck.

Lindax Sun 02-Oct-11 22:55:26

ds started picking at his finger nails when he started P1 (Scotland). Would pick away at them and come home complaining they were sore. In P2 it stopped. He's just started P3 and its started again.

He had an exceptional teacher in P2 who kept them constantly busy so there was no time to fiddle/pick nails. In P1 and P3 there are time when they are waiting for something to happen and he finds it boring so starts picking.

like previous posters suggestion, I have tried to remove the temptation, for him it is by keeping his nails very short and smooth to try to stop him picking at them again.

stressystressedmum Mon 03-Oct-11 11:51:59

We have considered cutting her hair, but it would have to be very short to stop her pulling it, and we don't want her to look like a boy, especially when she has only just started school. So that's on the list for the future if we can't tackle the problem from the root cause (pun definitely not intended).

Yourefired - you're right, and it's not just the fact that she is pulling her hair out that is making us very upset, it's the fact that she is stressed and anxious enough to want/need to pull her hair. sad How were you able to help your anxious child? She is definitely more emotionally fragile than our youngest, and we worry about her generally. Which probably doesn't help! Were then any books that you found useful?

I have this book from the library that is interesting, particularly the bits about not reassuring them, and the section on younger children and using toys to "act out" what is happening and get them to explain how they feel. It's a CBT book, basically. I'd be interested to know if anyone else has used this approach.

Thanks again for all the replies.

Yourefired Mon 03-Oct-11 12:22:47

We spent some time defining the problem. We discovered that she felt that other children did not like her, and did not want her there. There was no problem with the school or with going to school, it was about just joining in effectively. The book "the unwritten rules of friendship" helped. There are lots of exercises in this book to help different types of children settle, including anxiety issues. We also enrolled her in a drama group with emphasis on improving interaction skills, rather than a jazz-hands kind of one. This has been a great success. I also ensure that she does lots of physical exercise (swimming, dance etc.) which is a well documented reliever of stress. In terms of talking to her we are very positive about other people and also stress that she is her own person, and has the ability to rely on herself when needed. One thing that really helps when she starts worrying is getting her to identify the emotion (hey I know this it's called worrying and everyone does it), acknowledging that she's felt this way before and come through it, and that it will pass. Please involve the school, ours have been so supportive.

abcdangel Mon 03-Oct-11 12:58:53

OP, I just stumbled across your post. I haven't read all the replies so apologise if I am repeating anyone, but my friend's son used to do this. He had terrible bald patches all over his head and it was very upsetting for her.

They solved the problem by buying My Little Pony toys - he would twist their hair instead of his own. -The ponies were all bald but- it really helped to get him out of the habit of doing it to his own hair.

dixiechick1975 Mon 03-Oct-11 22:47:30

A little girl on the recent supernanny series on channel 4 was doing this - not sure if will still be available online/repeat.

It did significantly improve (but not totally stop).

Things suggested above were tried like a toy not hair to touch.

Mum was also babying the child (not saying you are) but along same line as yourfired - gave child responsibility/tasks to give her control.

Is her hair long enough to french plait/tightly tie back?

stressystressedmum Tue 04-Oct-11 09:06:35

Thank you for more replies. We have tried tying the hair back, but she pulls out the bands/clips. It does seem to be working a little in school though, we we're persevering with that while we think about how to cut it. My husband is very keen to cut the hair, because he thinks that we might be able to get it at a length where it won't knot if she twiddles it, and so the urge to pull won't be as strong. I think that that length will still be very short for a girl, and so I'm reluctant to do that as a first step. It has become a little bit of an issue for us.

I tried talking to her last night about school, and introduced discussing feelings. It turned out that she didn't know what "jealousy" meant, or "worry". I was really glad to be able to bring up the subject of feelings, and I realised that I hadn't done so since she was very little and we did the usual "how does the doggy feel?" "he's smiling because he's happy" "he's happy because he found his teddy" sort of thing when we were reading her stories. So we hadn't really got beyond happy/sad/angry! She seemed to open up a bit, and I felt like I was getting somewhere, but just as she seemed to have something to say and looked as though she was working out how to put it into words, my husband stepped into the conversation to fill the silence, and the moment was lost. Not his fault, but very frustrating! It's promising though.

So far we have:
1) Definitely jealousy that her sister is at home with me (and also that Daddy gets a bigger piece of cake than her!).
2) Perhaps something to do with maths at school. She said that she doesn't understand, which doesn't make much sense to me as she was doing basic sums at preschool, so she shouldn't have any issue with the kind of number work that a class would do in the first term of reception! I tried asking her if she liked her teacher, and how she thought the teacher might respond if she asked a question. I think that the conversation was reaching a natural end at that point though, so I let it go to pick up again.

Are we babying her? I don't know. I have felt sometimes that we have done the opposite and expected her to grow up very fast. She is tall for her age, and is very articulate - she's been very articulate since a very young age - and so adults in general have always treated her as older than her chronological age. In practical terms, so have always expected her to settle into school on her own (only went into the classroom on the first day). In emotional terms, I just don't know. I suppose that I'm unaware of how everyone else treats their reception-age child. When they are babies, you all parent around other Mums, don't you? And you get a feel for how they do it. But that doesn't happen when they are bigger as you tend to only see the general keeping-an-eye-on-them-while-they-play, and the occasional telling-off!

JellyBelly10 Tue 04-Oct-11 13:30:02

When I was 11 and started at secondary school I (and everyone else) thought I was coping well with the big transition from primary to secondary. Everything seemed to be ok, I had a couple of friends who'd come from the same primary so it wasn't a total culture-shock. But within weeks of starting I developed trichotillomania. I didn't pull my hair out but quickly pulled all of my eye-lashes and my eyebrows out...which looked pretty odd!! I remember my mum being very worried about it and she constantly told me not to do it. But in the privacy of my own room (and sometimes with great determination and a pair of tweezers!) I repeatedly pulled out every lash and brow and the moment even the first tiny dot of the beginning of a new hair growing through showed...I would get it out with the tweezers. Funnily enough I don't remember feeling anxious about school...perhaps because the trichotillomania was the release or the diversion I needed. It lasted for a few months and then one day I just decided I wasn't going to do it anymore. No amount of anyone telling me not to do it would have made the least bit of difference, I stopped when I decided to stop.
Maybe your daughter for whatever reason just needs to do this right now, and any amount of letting her know you're worried about it might actually make her more determined to do it.
A friend of mine's daughter pulled most of the front of her hair out when she was in Reception and Year 1 and 2 and it's only now in year 3 that things seem to have settled down. But they had her going to child psychologists, hypnotherapist, wearing turbans and all sorts....I personally think it just contrived to make it a massive big deal and that perhaps the child would have stopped doing it earlier had they kept it more low-key. I don't know though, and I certaily understand your worries about her.

skybluepearl Tue 04-Oct-11 23:46:05

my brother had the same thing but it did pass and it will for your daughter. you are doing all the right things in supporting her.

skybluepearl Tue 04-Oct-11 23:47:24

also maybe a short bob hair cut might help? might be too short to twiddle?

PeppermintPanda Wed 05-Oct-11 11:11:43

I don't think that cutting it short would help - you'd need to virtually shave it for it to be short enough to stop her getting hold of it! And that would defeat the purpose somewhat!

Might be better to spend a while each morning and make a fairly big deal about doing her hair - sit her in front of a mirror and put french plaits in. Take her to Claire's Accessories and let her choose a few fancy clips and bands etc. Then maybe a bribe reward each afternoon if she leaves the bands in all day?

PeppermintPanda Wed 05-Oct-11 11:14:31

Forgot to say, I think you're right about it being just the anxiety of starting school etc, and I think you're doing everything right to solve it. Hopefully, if you can distract her from the hairpulling for a few weeks until she feels more confident, she'll gradually just forget about it.

stressystressedmum Wed 05-Oct-11 21:58:07

Thank you for all the different perspectives. It's particularly good to hear of success stories. I think that I'm going to keep everything low key for now, so that we don't make too big a deal of it. While trying to support her emotionally and be good role models ourselves (something that we've been thinking about anyway).

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