Dealing with hair pulling disorder (trichotillomania), compulsive skin picking (dermatillomania), excessive nail biting and other body focused repetitive behaviors, gives us all a greater understanding of the pain and plight. But when it comes to kids, how to stop hair pulling (trichotillomania), skin picking (dermatillomania) or nail biting is made all the more tricky because the parent isn’t in control.
What do you do when your child goes to bed with eyebrows and comes down to breakfast with one missing?
What do you do when your son has a skin infection “out of the blue”?
What do you do when you are making your daughter’s bed and you find hair all over the bedsheets?
What can you do when you find out these are signs of compulsive hair pulling (trichotillomania) or excessive skin picking (dermatillomania)? Or point to a larger issue with childhood anxiety?
Seeing your child like this may be very frightening & confusing. So much so that it may cause you, as a parent, to react in anger or apathy. If your child senses your misunderstanding, your fear, your worry, your sadness, it may cause him to retreat and cause the family dynamic to spiral.
Meet Natasha Daniels, child therapist and mother to three vibrant, challenging and insightful children who keep her on her toes. Having been an anxious kid herself and raising three anxious kids of her own, Natasha gets anxiety and OCD on a very personal level.
Natasha has spent 13 years working with children and families in her private practice Hill Child Counseling in Pheonix, AZ.
BUT you can get access to her expertise thanks to the internet. At Anxious Toddlers to Teens, she explains complex mental health disorders in a way busy parents can quickly get it. Best of all her “just for kids” videos deliver guidance and actionable tips that can help both kids and adults with OCD / anxiety.
Recently Aneela and I sat down with Natasha to talk about: How to help a Child who Pulls Hair or Picks Skin.
Natasha shared her personal experience with picking: “One day I saw <my daughter’s> little hand digging deep into her skin. My heart sank. “What?” She said staring at me with big eyes. “I like to pick.” She said simply. She is not alone. Many of us have a child who pulls hair or picks skin. And many of us feel desperate to make them stop.”
This chat inspired us to write down a few tips for parents with children with hair pulling, skin picking, nail biting or other BFRBs.
Don’t say “stop it”
As much as you want to say “just stop” or show your daughter the pile of hair, it doesn’t help. In fact it makes things worse. The child will feel ashamed and likely do the behavior more. Instead, try encouraging them to take stock of what they are feeling and do something more positive, like deep breathing or playing with fidget toys.
Don’t stay in the dark!
Don’t blame your kiddo
It’s not your child’s fault that they are pulling or picking. It’s not something they want to do. It’s something that feels impossible to stop. Work with your child on strategies. Ask them how they want your help.
Don’t be preoccupied with pulling or picking
The more you focus on it, the more they will focus on it. If you are using Keen bracelet, you can shift your focus on the child’s tracking stats instead of, “did you pull or pick today?” Keen changes the conversation and allows the child to take control vs the parent. This is very powerful.
Don’t praise the progress
Rather than focusing on the physical result of a full head of hair, clear skin or beautiful nails, focus on the PROCESS – the hard work your child is doing to take control and manage the condition.
Do you have a tip that is working for your family? Please share it by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Together with Abbe Greenberg and Maggie Sarachek, of the Anxiety Sisters, and Lauren McKeaney of PickingME Foundation we recorded a podcast to share treatments for body focused repetitive behaviors like trichotillomania and dermatillomania, along with our mental health stories.
It's important that Keen fits snugly. Here's a quick guide to help you decide which bracelet size to order: