Why does my child twirl his hair?

My five year old son twirls his hair without even realizing he is doing it. He twirls it so much that it knots and now he has a bald spot from pulling so hard. I got him a crew cut so he will stop the habit. Have you ever heard anything about this? Also, how long should I keep his hair short?

The medical term for the habit you describe is trichotillomania. Hair-twirling and hair-pulling (usually of hairs on the head, but eyebrows and eyelashes also can be affected) occurs in boys and girls 4-10 years of age. As is the case with your son, many children are unaware that they are doing it. The practice may begin as a comforting technique as the child is falling asleep and also may be done during quiet activities such as reading, writing, or watching television. For most children the habit is a stress-reducer, much like finger sucking or nail-biting.

Although a short haircut may temporarily prevent him from pulling out his hair, you should address the underlying reasons why he twirls his hair. Perhaps you, with the help of your pediatrician, can explore what stressors your son may be confronting.

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