Children Pulling Other Kids' Hair

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Aggressive hair pulling 9-month-old

March 2008

Help! My 9 month old little boy has been pulling my hair for a few months now. I've tried everything I can think of. I've tried pulling it out of his hands or mouth and telling him no, to giving him something else to play with. I've tried putting my hair up in a ponytail but he continues to go for my hair. He's now getting more aggressive and screams when I pull my hair away from him. I'm passed frustrated and don't know what to do. I'm about a second from cutting it all off, but it's taken me years to get it this long and I finally like it. I would deeply appreciate ANY suggestions. Thank you. Frustrated Mom

What about simply putting him down, telling him ''you may not pull my hair'', and walking away. If he screams, let him. I think it makes the point clear. And 9 months old is not too early to teach him to respect you, and your physical boundaries, though I am sure being an infant you are still very physically attached. anon

I remember wanting to cut off all my hair, too, when our son went through this stage. It will end, I promise! At the time, I simply took my hair from his hand and told him no. Reacting strongly just seemed to make him want to do it more, to see if he could recreate the effect. I can't say whether it helped, but after 1,000 repetitions he did get over this less-than-adorable phase.

One thing I did notice was that some of the pulling (not all, by any means) seemed to be an attempt to convey a need--food, milk, a diaper change, attention. Noticing those times and solving them for what they were helped me deal with the times when it was nothing but cause/effect curiosity (or malice, which it felt like at the time!). Hang in there--it will pass!

I hate to be blunt, but he's 9 months old and you are the boss. If you don't want him to pull your hair you need to stop him and put him down when he does. If you do that enough and consistently, he'll get the message. He'll challenge you much worse down the road. Sometimes, they just can't get their way, even if they scream. My son would go after moles on my neck which would be really painful if he pulled or scratched them so it was not a vanity thing but I would put him down and say no when he did it and he got the message. the boss

Hairpulling 15 month old

Sept 2007

My son is 15 1/2 months old and has been a hairpuller as long as he could grasp. It's pretty much only my hair he pulls. He's getting stronger the older he gets and it really hurts! He does it more when he's tired or cranky. I've been putting him down as soon as he grabs hold and telling him that it hurts Mommy when he pulls her hair but he thinks it's funny and it's not working. I realize he's too young to formally discipline but he seems to be old enough to understand that it's not ok to pull hair! Any suggestions?? Yanker's Mama

Though the idea is not terribly popular, I do not believe that 15 months old is too young to use discipline, especially when the child is hurting you! And hair-pulling, too, which is just painful!

Since he was 12 months old, my son has responded very well to being placed in his crib for a ''time-out'' of sorts. I didn't really plan to start time-outs so early, but one day he was making me crazy so I gave it a go. It was like magic. I only use it with hitting, throwing, and other hurtful or dangerous behaviors. No drama from me, just a quick, firm, ''No hitting'' and up and in, maybe for a minute, sometimes less, sometimes more if I think he needs the down-time (he is 20 months now). He gets the message, and the behavior stops (for a while, anyway, maybe even the whole day if I am lucky!).

Don't put up with the pulling. He CAN understand. Good Luck

I had this problem with my 14 mo old and one day in frustration, gave one of her curls a brief but firm tug immediately after I expressed my pain at her yank of my hair and explained that's what hair pulling felt like.

I know that sounds draconian, but it worked. She was startled by the new sensation, but wasn't upset, and she seemed to truly understand why I didn't like her behavior, and she stopped hair pulling.

For her, the hair pulling was a way to get me to move to a new location with her. She quickly found alternative ways to communicate her wishes. Anon

No, I really don't think that he IS old enough to understand. Very young children are very egoistic, I think they still don't completely get that other people are separate from them, or that what they do can be hurtful (it's not hurting *them* after all!). My 25 month old starting pulling hair a few months ago, and it's been really frustrating. But I know it is a phase and it will pass. Hitting her or punishing her is not the solution, at least, not for me. I really don't think those kinds of things work anyway, personally. That doesn't mean just put up with it. Keep reiterating that you don't like it, it hurts, and you want him to stop. Tired of Hair Pulling

The hair pulling may be such a stage, or your baby may be suffering from trichotillomania, the ''hair pulling disease''. Usually kids pull their own hair, but in my daughter's case, she pulls mine (and has since she was a baby). She usually does it when she's tired, and she needs to do it in order to go to sleep. Fortunately she doesn't pull hard.

Kids tend to grow out of this by the time they are 5 or so - though I didn't, and I think my daughter won't either (she's already 5). anon

Unconventional advice: pull back! Obviously, enough for him to feel the discomfort, but not so much that you're harming your child. He needs to understand why this isn't a fun game. Pull back every single time. He'll get it quickly. Natural consequences work best

18-month-old is pulling my hair for comfort

Dec 2004

My 18 mo toddler pulls my hair for comfort, and I'd like to stop it--it hurts! He started twisting his fingers in my hair during nursing, and now whenever he's upset he pulls my hair. He's happiest when he can pull a strand out and can sniff it or mouth it (yuck!). This isn't an aggressive thing--definitely for comfort. I've tried for months and months to get him attached to a blanket or a toy for comfort and self-soothing. He likes them, but when it comes to comfort, my hair is it. I've tried all kinds of redirection, telling him ''no pulling!'', but nothing works.

I keep my hair up all the time now; I've thought about cutting my hair short, but I like it long, and also worry how upset he would be. Anyone else have this problem? How did you solve it? Toddler wants me bald

I have the same problem with my daughter (2.9 years old now) and I haven't ''solved it'' per se - nor do I believe there is a solution, beyond not giving in and having her have to find her own substitutes (probably her own hair once it becomes long enough). I suffer from trichotillomania (compulsive hair-pulling) myself and I believe my daughter has inherited the disorder. She pulls my hair rather than her own because it's available to her and, as she puts it, ''it hurts to pull my hair''. She always does it before she goes to sleep, and I thinks she needs to do it to relax. She'll also do it when she starts to wake up at night, even before her little eyes open her little hand is searching all over the bed for my hair. If she finds it, she goes back to sleep, if she doesn't find it or a good substitute, she wakes up. Supposedly baby trich goes away by the time kids are 5-7 years old. I hope that will be the case and I have noticed her needing it less than she used to but she still does need it. What I would recommend to you, if you can't stand the pulling, is to look for a substitute for her. A toy or a blanket won't do, it has to be something that resembles human hair. Perhaps a doll with a full set of hair would work. A very hairy sweater or scarf, perhaps. For my daughter, the cat's tail will do when I'm not around. But I'd be weary of cutting your hair short or not providing it to her - I've thought about it myself, but my fear is that if she doesn't pull my hair, she'll pull her own, and she has much less to spare. Good luck! anon

Hi--My son (22 mos) also has a ''hair fetish'' -- pretty much whenever I'm holding him he wants to have a hank of my hair in his hand. I guess I'm taking the opposite approach--whenever he asks ''Mama, hair?'' I take out my ponytail or whatever and let him hold my hair for as long as he wants. It helps that he doesn't pull at all, just presses to his nose and mouth mainly. (this is kind of gross when he has a runny nose I admit). My feeling is that he'll grow out of this eventually and being strict about it will serve no purpose. (And cutting your hair might not help either--my son likes to touch my husband's hair for comfort also and it's pretty short). My mom says I did the same thing when I was my son's age so it seems like it's not that unusual. I'd only try to stop your child when he's actually pulling too hard-- otherwise, chalk it up to self-soothing. Elizabeth

17-month-old is a big hair puller

Nov 2004

My 17 month old son is a big hair puller and I am looking for suggestions to get him to stop. We repeat ''ouch - hair pulling is not ok'' when he hurts us but if he is in a playful mood and someones head is near by he goes for the yank. I think he thinks it is fun. I bet that part of the problem is that when tired he will crawl into our laps, suck his thumb and gently play with our hair. It is so sweet! I am sure this is a phase that will eventually work itself out but for the sake of our 3 year old daughter's scalp - anyone have any magic bullets to suggest? Jennifer

while I don't believe in any kind of corporal punishment, I've found that pulling my baby's hair in return has worked wonders. before all you parents out there write me horrified emails, let me just explain that I look in his eyes lovingly, give him a big smile, and say ''hair pulling doesn't feel so good'' while shaking my head no. then I gently take a large clump of hair and pull very slowly and gradually till the tension seems strong enough to be mildly uncomfortable but not enough to hurt. he actually gets an ''aha!'' look in his eyes as he figures it out. I've done this 3 times after which he stopped completely. if you're willing to try it, I think you'll find it works. finally have all my hair

2 y.o. pulling other kids' hair

Dec 2003

A friend of ours with a 2 year old is struggling with her child's fondness of pulling on other children's hair. Time outs and other forms of discipline do not seem to deter his actions. Has anyone experienced similar problems with their own children and how did you fix the problem? Steve

It's possible that he may be suffering from trichotillomania, the hair pulling disease. Tric sufferers generally pull their own hair, but my own 2-year-old who has it pulls mine instead (I think this is because her own hair was so short when she started that she couldn't get the release from pulling it she could get from pulling mine). In her case, she does it when she's very tired and going to sleep, but other tric sufferers have other things that trigger their need to pull hair. Does this kid pull other's hair once or twice hard (perhaps looking for a reaction, testing limits, etc.) or does it seem like his hands wander almost unconsciously towards other's hair? Do his hands seek hair even shen he's asleep? If the latter, it may be tric. anon

13 month old pulling my hair

Feb 2003

I have a 13 month old who loves to grab a handful of my hair and yank really hard; especially the bangs or the little wispy hairs at the back. He doesn't do it from aggression or frustration and I don't think it's a comforting technique for him, he thinks it's a game, and he has a great time doing it. I've tried everything I can think of, starting with screaming ''OUCH!'' I grab his little hand and say ''No Hair Pulling! You're hurting me! Mommy doesn't like it when you pull her hair!'' But he just finds that more amusing, laughs and goes in for another tug. I can usually get him distracted by something else but many a tender moment has been ruined by him getting that mischevious look in his eyes, reaching up for a handful, and YANK. Any suggestions? Jill

This is very typical of babies this age. I think often they are doing it just to see what happens. My son was big on pulling my husband's hair when he was about a year old (my husband's hair is long, mine is short). He pulled mine too, but not as often. Because babies this age don't understand that other people have feelings, telling them ''You're hurting Mommy'' doesn't mean anything to them; and yelling is a big, dramatic reaction, one that they will often try to provoke -- because it's interesting to them. What we did that was most effective, was to say in a very calm, flat voice ''No hair pulling'' and then put our son down or turn away from him (only for about 30 seconds). He pretty quickly figured out that this reaction wasn't fun or interesting, and the hair pulling tapered off in a month or two. Also, I think they just grow out of it. Karen

The first thing I would do is stop reacting to it. You're right about him thinking it's a game. And every time you give him a loud OUCH you're taking part in it. So stop giving him a big reaction that he might enjoy and want to see repeated. That's pretty much all I've got. Good luck! Sarah

Put him down, turn your back, and walk away when he pulls your hair. He clearly enjoys your negative reaction (ouch, yell, etc.) so deprive him entirely of your attention instead. This worked for similar behaviors for my son--nipped it right in the bud. Ostracism seems cruel, but you don't have to show any angry feelings or deliberately cruel intent. Just say, ''No, I don't like that'' and walk away. virginia

Boy, can I relate! My 15 month old use to love pulling my hair, but more than that, the reaction I gave her (very similar to yours). My advice is this, ignore it as much as you can and if your hair is long enough wear it back! My hair is super long and I usually wear it in braids. I've found she isn't so interested in it anymore. Though yesterday she was pulling my earrings! I've found ignoring certain behavior helps to make them go away. Good luck! mom