It appears that my 5 year old daughter has "Trichotillomania."
"Trichotillomania is a disorder characterized by the non-cosmetic pulling of hair, resulting in significant hair loss. The name is derived from the Greek terms for hair (trich), pulling (tillo), and morbid impulse (mania). Trichotillomania is commonly associated with considerable distress.
The majority of individuals start pulling hair during childhood or adolescence, though hair pulling can begin at any age. Current estimates are that, among adults, roughly 1.5% of males and 3.5% of females in the U.S. engage in clinically significant non-cosmetic hair pulling in their lifetime." -From www.trich.org.
My little girl has had signs and symptoms of trichotillomania her entire life, although we were unaware of any correlation. She has always been a "face picker" and a year ago she plucked her eyebrows nearly bald. 2 months ago I started to notice bald spots on the top of my little girl's head and she admitted to me that she has been pulling it out. I immediately thought of OCD and consulted her pediatrician about it. She of course referred me to a child psychologist. I am now on a very long waiting list to see that child psychologist (looking for a career field to go into anyone? Apparently they're in high demand!). We have tried everything to curb this behavior but to no avail. Scolding/lectures, punishment, ignoring it, cutting her hair short, rewards for not pulling etc... According to my limited research, these tactics have little to no success rates and professional behavioral therapy is recommended.
I am unsure what triggers her hair pulling. It can be brought on by stress or anxiety, it can be considered a "nervous tic," an impulse-control disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, some do it subconsciously, some do it in response to relaxation. My little girl doesn't seem like an anxious child. She doesn't display any other signs or symptoms of OCD. She IS an especially sensitive little girl. I fear the addition of a new sibling or a change in my job or her schedule could affect her adversly.
I have been placating myself by telling myself that she will "grow out of it." But this reasoning provides only temporary relief and does not actually benefit she or I in healing. The truth is, we could be talking about weeks, months, or years of dealing with this. Many of the stories I have read online of others with this disease have suffered over 10 years. Always wearing hats or scarves, constant feelings of shame and isolation. I don't want my little girl to go through that.
After several hours of research yesterday, I have come to a new conclusion. This is a small thing. She's not dying of cancer, she doesn't have a serious psychotic illness like schizophrenia. She pulls her hair. We can deal with that, we can work through it. This will not ruin her life. This will not ruin our relationship. I took my little girl on a walk and promised her I would never make her feel like there was something wrong with her or yell at her about her hair pulling again. I want my little girl to be the self confident, wonderful, sweet, beautiful, snuggly little person I know she is. Trichotillomania will not hold her back. I don't know what to do yet, I don't know how to parent in this situation. But I do know that I will figure it out.