Parenting comes with its own set of challenges, but when your child struggles with body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) like hair pulling (trichotillomania), skin picking (dermatillomania), or nail biting, it can add an extra layer of complexity.
These behaviors can be distressing for both the child and the parent, but there are ways to support your child and help them manage these behaviors!
Here are three helpful tips that HabitAware thinks every parent of a child (or teen) with BFRBs should know:
1. Educate you and your child on BFRBs.
Having a good understanding matters! Make sure that both you and your child are aware that a BFRB is a chronic medical condition that no one is to blame for, and also that it can be managed!
Take the time to educate yourself about the behavior your child is dealing with. Many people in the BFRB community share similar sentiments of triggers and helpful management strategies, so it doesn't hurt to look at other BFRBs that your child doesn't have, either. Read stories by people who have them, and become familiar with language that doesn't place blame on your child or treat the behavior as something gross or shameful.
Once you have a better understanding of BFRBs, have an open and honest conversation with your child about their behavior. Help them understand that they are not alone and that there are strategies and techniques that can help them manage their urges. Encourage them to ask questions and express their feelings, and reassure them that you are there to support them every step of the way. Try to find a time that both you and your child are mentally prepared for the conversation, so that both of you can go into it open-minded and positive.
2. Remember that you are there to support your child.
Creating a supportive environment at home is crucial for helping your child manage their BFRBs. Avoiding criticism or negative reactions when you notice your child engaging in these behaviors can be hard to resist, but it's important that you do for the sake of your child's mental health. Shame feeds the BFRB cycle, so avoid intentionally fueling it! Instead, offer your child empathy, understanding, and encouragement. Let them know that you are proud of them for making an effort to manage their behavior, and for all of the other things you love about them that are more important than their hair, skin, or nails.
In addition to emotional support, consider making practical changes to your child's environment to help reduce their urges to engage in BFRBs. This might include keeping their hands busy with fidget toys or stress balls, covering mirrors or other triggers that may lead to skin picking or hair pulling, or establishing daily habits that include healthy self-soothing mechanisms such as exercise or mindfulness activities.
3. YOU are better at supporting your child when you feel supported. Take care of yourself, too!
While it's important to provide support and understanding as a parent, it's also essential to seek support for yourself. Parenting a child with BFRBs can be emotionally challenging, and it's okay to feel overwhelmed at times. Remember, neither you or your child are alone in this journey, and taking care of yourself will better enable you to support your child effectively.
What makes you feel supported? Do you have friends that you can talk to about this? Do you know other parents going through something like this with their child? That could help!
If not, we at HabitAware offers the Parent Huddle Series which we try to run regularly. These meetings are run by a HabitAware BFRB Peer Coach, and are opportunities for parents to talk about having a kid with a BFRB in a safe, understanding, and constructive space.
Check to see if we're running a series soon!
Header image by edsavi30
Image at the beginning of the article by sofatutor
Part of this article was written with the help of ChatGPT