When E. was a wee baby, I tried desperately to get her to take a pacifier, to be swaddled and to take a bottle. But her stubborn streak showed itself from Day 1. Every time we tried to swaddle her, she fought and kicked until she was free:
The bottle was the biggest battle. My baby agreed with the experts that breast is best, and HATED bottles. Even as she got a bit older and I would go into work once a week for five-hour stretches, she would scream and yell every time my grandmother tried to give her a bottle and would just wait it out until I got home.
She won that battle and we started giving her breast milk in a cup around 6 months in between nursing sessions:
When she was about 20 months old, she started with a new bad habit — pulling her hair out. It started when she had back-to-back ear infections, and I think it was a soothing technique. She mostly stuck to pulling it out of the top of her head on her left side.
In one month, her ponytails went from this:
The funny thing is that at the time I didn’t even realize how bad it had gotten. Of course, I kept asking our pediatrician about it and she said it’s a phase and that was definitely soothing-related. She said lots of kids go through stuff like that, and that she may not outgrow it completely until she’s 5. But she was confident that she’ll outgrow it on her own.
And her hair has certainly grown back quite a bit. But the pulling has never really stopped. She does it at night, and we try to tell her no whenever we see her doing it. But nearly every night, she twirls the hair on her left side and pulls it out, strand by strand.
As a result, it kind of grows in funky. So this week we went to get a haircut. We keep getting these little pixie cuts because otherwise one side is much longer than the other. Here’s how it looked before her haircut.
We went to one of my favorite hairdressers, and a mom of 3. She immediately noticed where E. had been pulling her hair out, and says to me — in a really nice way, I swear — “Have you taken her to see a psychiatrist yet?” “Huh?” “About the hair pulling.”
Oh. I tell her, “Well, we’ve talked to our pediatrician and we’re comfortable in her assessment that it’s a phase that she’ll outgrow.”
“No, she won’t. They don’t stop. I’ve been cutting hair for 20 years, and I’ve seen a lot of kids with this. They never just stop on their own.”
Then, she tells me about her sister, who is 24 years old and STILL pulls her hair. It’s to the point that her sister needs to wear a wig.
She kind of sensed my defensiveness and quickly said, “It is just a soothing technique. It’s nothing you did.”
She says without intervention, they don’t learn other techniques for soothing and this sticks with them for life. I actually had a roommate after college who pulled her eyebrows out and had to draw them back on. Same thing — nervous tick.
So, now I’m flummoxed. Who do I trust? My pediatrician, who also happens to be a close family friend and who I trust completely. Or my hairdresser, who, to her credit, probably knows a lot more about hair than my ped.
Should I be more worried? E’s next appointment isn’t until her 3-year-old check-up in February, so I think I can wait until then to press the issue further with our doctor.
Have you had any experience with this? How do you break habits like this? Is my hairdresser overreacting or is my doctor underreacting?
And in the meantime, at least her hair is cute, right? It’s perfect for her little Tink Halloween costume.