19 answers

Playing with His Hair

My son just turned 10 and when he is watching TV or we are just relaxing, he plays with his hair. It's mostly just gently pulling his hair or scratching
on the top of his head. I haven't spoken to his teacher yet to see if she has noticed.
I have looked at his scalp which looks fine, I think it could be a nervous habit.
He has been doing this for awhile. Any suggestions? MB

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

My son does this too. It is a sensory stimulation thing. He needs to stimulate his finger and/or scalp to relax. He will probably outgrow it. It used to drive me crazy--but the doctor told me not to say anything to him about it. Bringing it to his attention makes it worse.

Hi Meri. Gotta laugh, not at you though. I too tug, twirl or play with my hair, especially when I'm tired, I've done it my entire life, parents said I started it when I was about 5 months old. My 6 month old son rubs his ears when he's tired or trying to go to sleep. You mentioned that he does this when he's relaxing, but does he do it any other time? Could be his way of saying, I'm tired. I don't think you really have too much to worry about unless he's pulling it and his hair starts to fall out. Best of luck.

More Answers

seems normal to me.. I'm 28 and I catch myself twiddling with my hair when I am not paying attention..

I have 2 kids (7 & 5). Both of them play with their hair. My 7 year old boy plays with his hair through out the entire day. When he was playing basketball this year, it actually interfered with his ability to play a little. We have recently given him a buzz cut and that seems to help, but he still does twirl on a daily basis. I think it's just a habit and comforting to him. I'm not worried about and don't think you should worry about your son either. Seems pretty normal to me. It may stop if other kids see him doing it and tease him. I've seen my son doing it in class when he's doing school work. Who knows, maybe it helps him concentrate???

I think you should thank your lucky stars. My son is 11 and when he is watching TV or relaxing, he is playing with something else!!! All the time, day and night.

Jen

M.,
If his hair is cut short or buzz cut anywhere on his head,
it is relaxing to him. My son does the same thing at times, but likes it better when I do it while we watch tv.
I have almost made him fall asleep a couple of times. He has not ever done it at school. THere was a girl at school that was rubbing his fuzzy little head when he would get off the bus, I could tell he reall liked the attention from her. I thought it was cute and harmless. I asked the
teacher if she knew the girl, and she said yes, so I was okay with it. He is in 8th grade. I guess he likes it to because when the kids were little I used to rub their heads when I was nursing them...I guess I just answered why he likes it so much.
W.

Dear Mary Beth; You don't say if your son is artistic. I am & I played with my hair until I was 11 - it just felt good! After that, it didn't, so I stopped. Talk to teacher &/or Dr. re this, otherwise, I wouldn't worry, especially since his scalp & hair look fine, This may bother you but not him, apparently. p.s. I'm now in my 70's. Take care. A.

My son does this too. It is a sensory stimulation thing. He needs to stimulate his finger and/or scalp to relax. He will probably outgrow it. It used to drive me crazy--but the doctor told me not to say anything to him about it. Bringing it to his attention makes it worse.

I have a medical condition called trichotillomania which started at 11. My parents were horribly embarrassed by my hair pulling and the doctors I saw didn't know anything about it, so they concluded I was doing it for attention and didn't know how to deal with stress. It wasn't until I was 20 that I even knew what I did had a name and was a medical condition. Here is a link to the Trichotillomania Learning Center located in Santa Cruz, CA:
http://www.trich.org

Your son may not have trich, but at least you get a little information and have a resource if you do suspect this might be what's going on.

Hi M.,
I actually do this myself (and, no, I do not have a buzz cut!). It seems to soothe mild anxiety for some reason (not because it feels soothing -- it's more like a compulsion). I started doing this in about third or fourth grade out of boredom. Anyway, I agree with you that this is a nervous habit like biting fingernails. Personally, I wish someone had tried to help me break this habit when I was younger. I would recommend asking his teacher to keep an eye out for this and let you know if she notices it. Then I would speak to his pediatrician about who can help him break this habit. It's not that I think his habit is dangerous, or anything, but, from my personal experience with the same habit, I wish that someone had helped me to stop, recongnize earlier the boredom and anxiety underlying this behavior, and develop a different, more useful way to address these issues. BTW, I don't think I really understood at that age why I developed this habit (other than being bored in school), and I would not be surprised if your son cannot think of any reasons or only reasons that are tangential to this habit. Again, I am not saying at all that your son has some big problem. I just wish someone had intervened with me so that I could have broken this habit decades ago and learned better coping mechanisms for mild anxiety and boredom (my personal issues --his could certainly be different).
K.

Hi M.,

It sounds like its just a comfort thing to him. I wouldn't worry too much about it. If he is displaying a lot of nervous behaviors however, then I would talk to his teacher. But if its just playing with his hair- don't worry.

Good luck!

M.

Just to rule out itchy scalp have him use Head & Shoulders for a week or so. If it turns out to be a nervous habit, teach him to otherwise occupy his hands when starts to do it. He could sit on his hands, or get out a puzzle or legos, etc. After awhile, he will break the habit. My daughter used to chew on her hair and this type of "distraction" helped a great deal.

Hi Meri. Gotta laugh, not at you though. I too tug, twirl or play with my hair, especially when I'm tired, I've done it my entire life, parents said I started it when I was about 5 months old. My 6 month old son rubs his ears when he's tired or trying to go to sleep. You mentioned that he does this when he's relaxing, but does he do it any other time? Could be his way of saying, I'm tired. I don't think you really have too much to worry about unless he's pulling it and his hair starts to fall out. Best of luck.

Hi! If he's not pulling his hair out, I probably wouldn't worry. And it might be best not to give too much attention to the issue so he doesn't get sensitive about it. But if he DOES start pulling his hair out, you might have a trichotillomaniac on your hands. Perhaps you could seek out a bit of education on trichotillomania just so you know what to watch for. The Trich Learning Center, or TLC, in Santa Cruz has some great info. You could even give them a call just to ease your concerns. Check them out at www.trich.org.

My 21 mo old daughter sucks her thumb and twrils her hair. It's totally a comfort thing. It's her way of getting "centered" or taking time out for her. I wouldn't worry about it. I still have friends who play with their hair today (unknowingly) when they are tired or relaxing. It's actually pretty darn cute..I think. Everybody has their thing they do to relax. Making an issue of it will probably make your son feel like it's a bad thing. Which I don't personally think to be true.

Cheers!

quietly hand him a soft squeeze toy to handle when he starts to play with his hair or scratch his head. it will relieve his tension or need for tactile stimulation in a safe manner. a squoosh (sp.)or some soft unsqueaky type of plastic toy is often enough for these children.

my son did it it was like a blanket remedy he just did when he was in his compfort zone he out grew it it was no big deal

Hi M.,

My 5 year old daughter has done this for as long as I can remember. She loves her head to be rubbed. Even comes close to falling asleep during haircuts (who doesn't?). I know when she is tired by her playing (twirling) with the hair on top of her head. I asked her pediatrician if I should be worried, and he assured me that as long as she isn't pulling it out or scratching her head raw, that I shouldn't worry. So I will pass this on to you. It's just his way of relaxing, and I wouldn't worry. If you are, I suggest asking his pediatrician. Hope this helped:-)

It's not that uncommon, many young children have a transitional object but as they get older it sometimes translates into something like hair stroking or twisting. If you are very concerned, or if he shows other signs that he is stressed you may consider discussing it with your ped.

Does it just bother you? Cause I don't see anything wrong with it...I think that it is natural for people to have a confort thing....unless he tells you that he is itching or you see a problem occuring I wouldn't worry about it....

Hi M.,

My stepdaughter did the very same thing when she was about 4. The doctor called it "Tricotealomelia" (sure the spelling is wrong). It is caused by stress (her mom was seeing a new man during this time and it was causing her a lot of confusion and stress -- of course our minds went to the worst possible scenario, but we resolved that quickly. We were at a loss. We talked to her, asked her how she was feeling...finally when the whole left side of her hair was gone (she did it at night, in bed), we finally had to tell her that if she did not stop pulling her hair out we would have to cut it because it was long on one side and bald on the other. She cried and I felt awful, but we told her it might help to tell us how her heart felt instead of twisting her hair into knots and then pulling to get the knots out. After a week of this (so hard for us to see her pain), she finally managed to stop, slowly, and we told her as long as she was trying that was all we needed. Over the course of a month she had stopped. When her hair came back, it came back curly! One side straight and one side curly. It eventually fixed itself, but it was a very difficult time. We took her to see a therapist but he told us she wasn't really responding and to give her a few months. She seemed OK, but to tell you the truth, she has never really been a joyful person. She had to grow up too soon to watch over her little brother and to this day, while about to be married, she still doesn't have that twinkle in her eye. It is a sad situation when parents divorce with very young children. We always thought it was for the best that way, they'd be too young to remember anything. They understand way more than we give them credit for. Good luck with your son.

V.

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