Trichotillomania Demands an Insightful and Patient Parent
Trichotillomania is a hair pulling disorder that requires a lot of love, patience and understanding from the parents and family.
It’s a concerned parents’ worst nightmare -- anything in the world they can’t protect their kids from. As a dad, I can tell you the thoughts start from the moment the red plus sign appears on the early pregnancy test, and I imagine it will never really go away. Wanting the best for your child is a given, so we deal with the heartache that professional sports may not be in his future or becoming the next Justin Bieber won’t be happening anytime soon. But what happens when your child develops a condition you never heard of before, one that, when you do hear about it, makes you think someone is pulling one over on you?
Trichotillomania, commonly referred to as “trich,” is considered a neurological disorder that causes young boys and girls to pull out their hair anywhere and everywhere on their body. Although in many cases the hair will grow back, repeatedly pulling on hair in the same area will eventually damage the follicles, and then one is left with random and often unsightly bald patches. As a parent, watching this, knowing your child is suffering mentally and emotionally, and then seeing the physical manifestation of bald patches will easily take its toll. There are some things that you’ll want to do and do very quickly if you are a parent in this situation.
I’m going to start from the premise that your child knows she is participating in a behavior that needs to be addressed for her health and safety. The concept of health covers the physical, mental, emotional and, depending on one’s orientation and beliefs, spiritual.
Parents must educate themselves about Trichotillomania
First things first -- do your own research. There is enough information out there that you can search on Google or any other browser and you’ll be pretty much up to speed on the subject in short order. Look for answers, traditional approaches and alternative ones too! Chat rooms and parent support groups are great sources for information.
Then seek out one or more of the following:
- A knowledgeable doctor in your area who has treated teens with trich and has a successful track record in doing so. Don’t be afraid to call and interview the doctor first or to speak to an office manager or a physician’s assistant to get a sense of the doctor’s approach and perhaps even demeanor.
- A known Therapist who treats teens for this disorder and a subsequent age-appropriate support group. Moving into acceptance and out of judgment usually comes when kids see they’re not alone. Early support can be the difference between nipping it in the bud and a lifetime of challenges and upset.
- An alternative medicine or holistic doctor whose approach might be a combination of supplements and herbs surrounded by an exercise regimen to keep your child’s metabolism working for him rather than against him. Additionally, I often suggest to clients that yoga is a great way to quiet the mind, and if kids are open to developing that discipline, it will do wonders for them as well.
If it’s age appropriate, include your child in the choice and direction of treatment, knowing you may still need to pull the parent card and make the ultimate decision.
Facing Trichotillomania in the family
Now that you have a team in place, get your own family team together. The age of your child will determine how actively she will participate in the healing process, since this condition can be discovered in children as young as a year old. Regardless, make sure that everyone is on the same page. Divided parents and/or other siblings are not going to help your child deal most effectively.
As a parent, take a moment, sometimes longer, and be clear within yourself that although this, well, sucks, there is nothing you did wrong to cause this situation. The “shoulda-coulda/if only I” game is not one where you or your child will win. If you need to move past this, then please get the support you need from a Therapist, a Coach, other parents experiencing the same challenges or a parent support group. The biggest challenge for a child, especially on the emotional and mental levels, is sensing doubt, uncertainty and judgment coming directly or indirectly from his parents. That doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to your feelings and what comes forward for you emotionally. Just be willing to process that on your own, and in moments when you’re having doubt, share with your child -- age-appropriate information, of course -- that you’re having your own moment and that it’s not about her. Upping the level of communication is going to be important, since leaving kids to their own devices about what they “know” is going on for their parents is more often than not inaccurate.
Which really leads me to my last point and most important one: Be a good listener. Many kids withhold from their parents for fear of being judged or put down. Set aside a time when open sharing is welcomed and encouraged. Model it by sharing what you might normally keep inside yourself. Communication is a key component, so making sure that you as parents are there to listen -- without judgment, without trying to fix, just open ears and an open heart -- will make a huge difference in the healing everyone is desiring.
Check out the Trichotillomania Learning Center (www.trich.org) to get the support you need!
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