Why Does My Daughter Chew On Her Hair?
Understanding Hair Chewing in Children
Hair chewing, also known as trichophagia, is a common habit in children, especially between the ages of 3 and 6. If your daughter is chewing on her hair, you’re not alone. Many parents report their kids engaging in this behavior.
Though it may seem harmless at first, hair chewing can potentially lead to some health and grooming issues. Additionally, it may signal an underlying problem like anxiety, boredom, or nutritional deficiency. The good news is that in most cases hair chewing is temporary and can be curbed with patience and gentle intervention.
Reasons Kids Might Chew Their Hair
There are a few theories as to why kids start chewing their hair in the first place:
Some children simply crave having something in their mouth and find hair chewing satisfying. It may provide comfort or entertainment in a similar way to thumb sucking and nail biting. As children outgrow certain infant oral habits, they sometimes transfer them to hair chewing.
Hair chewing offers intriguing sensory feedback. The texture and light tugging on the scalp can be self-soothing. This oral-tactile satisfaction makes it an appealing fidget or stimming behavior for some.
Putting non-food items in their mouth is one way young kids explore the world around them. At younger ages, mouthing behaviors are developmentally appropriate. Hair is a convenient object for babies and toddlers to grasp and sample as part of their sensory development.
Hair chewing can also manifest when children are bored or under-stimulated. The repetitive motion may help distract or occupy them. Kids who struggle to self-entertain may play with their hair to pass time. Introducing engaging toys and activities can help redirect this impulse.
Anxiety and Stress
Hair chewing may be a self-soothing mechanism for anxious children. The calming, repetitive nature of this fidgeting behavior can help manage nervous energy. Children with sensory processing issues may also find it relaxing.
There is some evidence linking iron, zinc, vitamin C and other nutrient deficiencies with pica behaviors like hair chewing. If their diet is lacking in certain vitamins and minerals, children may instinctively chew hair to consume more. Getting their nutrient levels tested and improving their diet can help.
As with many behaviors, children often emulate older siblings, friends or adults around them. Seeing others casually chewing their hair can normalize the habit. Being aware of this influence and modeling is important.
Problems Caused by Hair Chewing
Though generally harmless in the short term, persistently chewing hair can cause some undesirable effects including:
- Hair damage – Excessive chewing can damage the cuticle and integrity of hair strands. This can lead to breakage and split ends.
- Hair loss – Constant pulling, sucking and biting places stress on the hair follicles. Over time, areas of excessive chewing may start thinning or balding.
- Ingestion – Swallowing hair, especially in large quantities, can cause trichobezoar. This intestinal blockage requires medical treatment.
- Dental issues – Wrapping hair around the teeth can trap food and bacteria, increasing tooth decay and gum disease risk.
- Social problems – Hair chewing that continues into the school years may lead to teasing or isolation from other kids.
- Self-esteem – Some children, especially girls, may feel embarrassed or ashamed of hair loss or damage caused by chronic chewing.
When Should You Be Concerned About Hair Chewing?
Occasional hair chewing during toddlerhood or preschool ages is usually nothing to worry about. However, consider intervening if your child’s hair chewing involves:
- Excessive time spent chewing – 30+ minutes a day of active hair chewing may signal a deeper issue to address.
- Focused, compulsive behavior – Intensely purposeful chewing on a specific hair spot for long periods can indicate an anxiety disorder or OCD tendencies.
- Significant hair loss or damage – Bald patches, thinning, or chewed down hair in isolated areas.
- Digestive issues – Symptoms like unexplained constipation, vomiting, or abdominal pain might indicate a hair mass (bezoar) forming.
- Interference with daily life – Avoiding social situations, problems at school, or lack of interest in activities due to hair chewing.
- Persistence beyond age 6 – Though common until age 3-4, chewing that continues into older childhood warrants investigation.
If excessive hair chewing remains beyond teething years or causes distress, consult your pediatrician or child psychologist. Sudden onset or dramatic escalation of this habit should also be evaluated for a potential underlying cause.
Tips to Stop Hair Chewing
If your daughter’s hair chewing has become bothersome or you want to curb it proactively, try these tips:
Identify Triggers or Patterns
Pay attention to when and where hair chewing happens. Keep a log to detect associations and precipitating events. Does it occur when bored, stressed, or tired? Strategizing based on triggers will optimize success.
Reduce aimless time by structuring activity periods and having engaging toys on hand. Arts and crafts projects, sensory bins, and games can provide fun distraction when boredom strikes.
Teach Replacement Behaviors
Suggest alternate oral outlets like chewelry, gum, drinking water, or snacking on crunchy veggies. Recommend fidget toys like spinners or tangle gadgets for tactile input.
Ensure balanced nutrition with a multivitamin or specific supplements if deficiency is suspected. Limit sugar which may exacerbate cravings to chew and mouth.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Praise your child when they refrain from hair chewing and remind them why it’s unhealthy. Have a reward system for meeting goals like sticker charts.
Make hair less enticing to chew by keeping it tied back or covered with a cap or bandana. Use hair products to help slick it down.
Seek Professional Help
For chronic hair chewing or signs of underlying issues, consult your doctor about behavioral intervention, oral motor tools, or counseling as needed.
Avoid overly correcting or shaming as it adds stress. With time and consistency, the habit often fades on its own by ages 4-6.
Does Hair Chewing Lead to Other Problems?
For the majority of kids, hair chewing remains just an isolated habit that comes and goes harmlessly. However, in rarer cases it may signify or develop into other issues that warrant attention:
Compulsive, repetitive hair pulling is a condition known as trichotillomania or “trich”. Though resembling hair chewing outwardly, trich is an impulse control disorder that requires behavioral therapy.
While not always food-related, pica refers to any persistent eating of non-nutritive substances. Hair chewing that crosses into swallowing abnormal amounts of hair may indicate pica.
Extreme hair chewing may be a self-soothing mechanism in children with anxiety, OCD, autism spectrum disorders or sensory processing disorder. Their underlying condition requires treatment.
Over time, excessive hair ingestion can potentially create protein or micronutrient deficiencies. Testing for anemia and other imbalances can identify if this is fueling the behavior.
So while most children outgrow harmless hair chewing in time, sustained or compulsive chewing should prompt parents to investigate any worrisome psychological or dietary factors. Seeking help early optimizes outcomes.
When to See a Doctor
Consult your pediatrician if:
- Hair chewing continues past age 6 with no signs of lessening
- Your child is experiencing hair loss or damage from excessive chewing
- You notice sudden increased intensity, frequency or duration of chewing
- Hair chewing is causing social issues or disrupting daily activities
- You suspect anxiety, OCD, autism spectrum or sensory disorders
- Your child seems fixated on chewing a certain hair spot compulsively
- Chewing involves ingesting abnormal amounts of hair
- Signs of vitamin or mineral deficiency are present
Doctors can check for underlying causes, assess any symptoms, and refer to counseling or therapies as needed. With professional support, even stubborn hair chewing can be overcome.
Maintaining Patience and Perspective
Knowing when to be concerned about daughters chewing hair relies on your parental intuition. Assess whether the habit seems proportional to your child’s stage of development or if it crosses into problematic territory.
While wanting to curb hair chewing is understandable, try to exercise empathy too. Imagine how soothing and self-regulating you may find doodling, nail-biting, or chewing gum during times of boredom or stress. For young children, hair can serve a similar purpose.
With gentleness and consistency, daughters usually learn to swap hair for healthier oral outlets in time. If efforts don’t seem to be helping after a reasonable period, then seek professional support.
In most cases, try to remember: This too shall pass. Your patience, understanding and guidance will get her through this temporary phase. The beautiful hair will grow back, and her relief in outgrowing this habit will be the only reminder it ever happened.