Toddlers can be peculiar individuals who possess various coping mechanisms that often make parents scratch their heads and wonder, “Why is my child doing this?” Sometimes, toddler behavior is downright odd and unusual. One habit — much like thumb-sucking — that parents would love to break may be hair twirling/pulling.
Hair-twirling is considered a self-soothing activity that your toddler may engage in during times of stress, boredom, or (most commonly) before bedtime to help wind down. This behavior can also be a release for intense or anxious children. Self-comforting activities such as hair twirling are (in most cases) completely normal for toddlers and habits they will more than likely outgrow by age three or four. However, if hair twirling/pulling persists, and your toddler seems uncommunicative, seems completely absorbed in one or more self-comforting activities, or does not like to be touched, call us and make an appointment to have your child seen in the office.
(Also, if your child starts pulling out their hair, eyebrows, or eyelashes, this could be a more serious condition known as trichotillomania and further evaluation is definitely needed.)
Some Approaches to Help Curb the Behavior
• Try not to force or constantly call attention to the hair twirling behavior, or it will likely increase. Instead, acknowledge the behavior and try talking with your child to help understand why the behavior is occurring.
• Encourage your toddler to find other ways to release pent-up energy, with physical activities such as dancing, riding a bike, getting involved in sports/group activities.
• Pay attention to what is going on at home that may be causing your toddler stress. Parents arguing, arrival of a new baby, weaning from breast or bottle, moving to a new home, change in caregiver can all trigger this kind of behavior. Times of unexpected change can be very unsettling for toddlers, so make sure to give extra love and attention during these times.
• Find a replacement for the hair-twirling behavior. A soft blanket, new stuffed animal, fake piece of hair, or a baby doll with long hair may do the trick.
• If all else fails, get your child’s hair cut short. A shorter haircut may be less tempting to twirl.
Toddlers are full of quirky behaviors. Parents will be telling their toddlers years from now about all these little idiosyncrasies. But it’s always good to remember that these idiosyncrasies are part of what make them unique and (on most days) comical and tons of fun!
Katie LaMendola is a former Kids Plus Provider.