Why Does My Daughter Pull Her Eyelashes Out?
It can be scary and worrisome as a parent to notice your daughter pulling out her eyelashes. This behavior is known medically as trichotillomania, and involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from places like the scalp, eyebrows, or eyelashes. Understanding why your daughter is exhibiting this behavior and how to help her stop pulling out her eyelashes is important.
What Causes Trichotillomania in Children?
There are a few potential causes and risk factors for trichotillomania in children:
- Genetics: There appears to be a genetic component, as trichotillomania tends to run in families. Having a relative with obsessive-compulsive disorder or hair-pulling behaviors increases a child’s risk.
- Stress and anxiety: Stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, or insecure attachment can trigger the onset or worsen trichotillomania symptoms. The hair pulling may function as a self-soothing behavior.
- Boredom: Children may start pulling their hair out of boredom, habit, or distraction. Eyelash pulling can become an unconscious habit over time.
- Sensory processing issues: Some children with autism, ADHD or sensory processing disorders are drawn to the feeling of pulling out their eyelashes. The sensation is calming or satisfying.
- Low serotonin: There is some evidence that having lower serotonin levels in the brain may contribute to trichotillomania. This neurotransmitter helps regulate mood and impulses.
- Age: Trichotillomania often starts in late childhood around age 9-13, as children gain more autonomy and deal with new social stressors.
Signs Your Child Is Pulling Out Their Eyelashes
There are some signs that parents should look out for to determine if their child is pulling their eyelashes:
- Missing or partially missing eyelashes on one or both eyes
- Red, irritated eyes or skin around the eyes
- Eyelashes of uneven lengths on one or both eyes
- Evidence of pulled-out eyelashes around where the child sits or plays
- Child attempts to hide their face or eyes
- Child avoids social situations and becomes withdrawn
Your daughter may also try to conceal evidence of her eyelash pulling by using makeup, hats or sunglasses indoors. Pay attention if she rejects offers to do her makeup or seems reluctant to discuss her eyelashes or eyes.
Physical and Psychological Effects of Trichotillomania
Eyelash pulling can cause both physical and psychological problems for kids over time. Physically, missing eyelashes impair the eye’s natural protective abilities. Dirt, debris and perspiration can get into the eyes more easily and cause eye infections or damage. Pulling out eyelashes repeatedly can also permanently damage hair follicles.
This condition also commonly causes psychological distress such as:
- Embarrassment about appearance
- Low self-esteem
- Social isolation or anxiety
- Guilt or shame about inability to stop pulling
- Poor school performance
The urge to pull may get stronger if the child is criticized, feels stressed or focuses excessively on the behavior. This can create a vicious cycle.
Diagnosing Trichotillomania in Children
Take your daughter to a pediatrician, psychologist, or mental health professional if you suspect she has trichotillomania. The doctor will:
- Ask questions about her symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behaviors regarding hair pulling
- Rule out any underlying medical conditions causing hair loss
- Examine areas like the eyelashes and eyebrows for signs of pulled hairs
- Assess for other emotional or behavioral disorders
- Refer to a mental health specialist like a psychologist or psychiatrist if needed
There are no lab tests to diagnose trichotillomania. The doctor will determine if the criteria for trichotillomania are met based on your child’s history and a clinical examination. The condition may occur alongside conditions like OCD, anxiety, depression, ADHD or autism spectrum disorder.
Treatment Options for Children with Trichotillomania
Trichotillomania treatment focuses on:
- Raising the child’s awareness of when and why they pull their eyelashes
- Teaching new coping skills to manage stress, anxiety, or boredom
- Modifying behaviors to reduce pulling urges and make the behavior less rewarding
Some treatment options that may help include:
1. Habit Reversal Training (HRT)
This behavioral therapy aims to make kids more aware of their pulling behaviors and replace it with healthy alternatives. Steps include:
- Identifying trigger situations when pulling occurs
- Recognizing pulling gestures and warning signs (like finger-to-eye contact)
- Using competing responses instead (like folding hands)
- Building positive reinforcement for new habits
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT helps modify dysfunctional thought patterns, emotions and behaviors that underlie trichotillomania. Kids learn to reduce hair pulling triggers, cope with stress differently, improve body image, and reduce perfectionism.
3. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
ERP helps children confront urges to pull hairs without giving in. They are exposed to triggering situations while refraining from hair pulling. This teaches them they can tolerate the urge without acting on it.
4. Hypnosis and Guided Imagery
Being hypnotized or guided through relaxation imagery scenes can help reduce hair pulling for some children. However, effects may be short-term without additional therapy.
5. Support Groups
Support groups allow kids to share struggles, feel less alone, and gain inspiration from others recovering from trichotillomania. Groups are available both in-person and online.
Medications like SSRIs may be prescribed if trichotillomania is severe and other therapies have not helped reduce symptoms. However, medication should be considered an add-on rather than sole treatment.
7. Parent and Teacher Education
Educating parents, teachers, peers, and the affected child about trichotillomania is crucial. This dispels myths, reduces stigma and criticism, and ensures the child gets accommodations and support needed.
With professional help, consistency, and support at home and school, most children with trichotillomania can overcome the disorder or manage it effectively. Early identification and treatment lead to better outcomes long-term.
Supporting Your Child in Managing Trichotillomania
As a parent, your support and understanding can greatly help your daughter manage trichotillomania. Some tips include:
- Avoid criticism or negative reactions – Shaming or scolding your child for pulling eyelashes can worsen feelings of guilt and the urge to pull. React calmly and kindly.
- Create a collaborative treatment plan – Work with your daughter and her therapist to set goals, identify tactics that help, and track progress. Make sure she has input.
- Limit access to mirrors – Reduce time spent staring in mirrors to limit triggering urges to pull eyelashes or inspect regrowth. Cover or remove mirrors if needed.
- Identify and minimize stressors – Notice situations that increase your daughter’s stress and anxiety levels that may trigger pulling. Help her manage academic, social or family stressors.
- Engage in activities together – Do shared hobbies, crafts or hands-on activities together to keep idle hands busy and provide social support.
- Use reminders and distractions – Place notes gently reminding your daughter to stop pulling in key spots. Find fun fidget toys that can distract hands from eyelashes.
- Enlist teachers’ help – Inform your daughter’s teachers so they allow accommodations like hats, less gaze-monitoring, preferred seating, and emotional support.
- Suggest hair extensions – Temporary eyelash extensions can reduce urges while regrowth occurs. Focus on building her confidence.
- Celebrate small wins – Praise any progress in reducing pulling, not just completely stopping. Small steps build momentum.
With your unconditional support, patience, and guidance, your child can overcome this challenging disorder. Seek any additional professional help needed. Remind your daughter frequently that she is loved.
Frequently Asked Questions About Trichotillomania in Children
Q: Will my daughter just grow out of this condition on her own?
A: No, trichotillomania will usually not resolve on its own without treatment. Early intervention with therapy has the best chance of helping kids overcome symptoms sooner and prevent long-term effects.
Q: How can I punish my child for pulling her eyelashes?
A: Do not punish or scold your daughter for hair pulling, as this is counterproductive. It adds stress, damages self-esteem, and strengthens the urge to pull. React with patience, support stops/regrowth, and seek treatment.
Q: Are there ways to make eyelash pulling physically impossible?
A: You can try putting bandages, gloves or false nails on your daughter’s hands to physically prevent pulling. But take care that this does not further distress her. The root cause of the pulling still needs to be addressed through counseling.
Q: Could my daughter’s eyelash pulling be a sign of sexual abuse?
A: While stress and trauma can trigger trichotillomania symptoms, there is no strong evidence linking it specifically to sexual abuse. Do not assume abuse is the cause without assessing for other risk factors. Handle this sensitive topic carefully.
Q: Will my child’s eyelashes grow back if she stops pulling them?
A: Yes, if the hair follicles are not too damaged from chronic pulling, regular eyelash regrowth should occur after pulling ceases. Lash growth serums or vitamin supplements can aid regrowth. Manage expectations realistically.
Q: How can I find a psychologist who specializes in trichotillomania?
A: Search the directories at organizations like the TLC Foundation for BFRBs or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. University-based clinics may have specialists too. Interview providers about experience with pediatric trich.
Q: Could trichotillomania be the sign of a deeper mental illness?
A: Trichotillomania is classified as an obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder. About 30% of children with it have another disorder like depression, anxiety, ADHD or OCD. Evaluating for other conditions is important.
With compassion, consistency and professional help, your daughter can break free from the urge to pull her eyelashes. This will boost her self-esteem, eye health, and overall wellbeing. Be patient – it may take time to find the right treatment approach. But recovery is absolutely possible.