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How can I teach my Down syndrome child not to hit or pull hair?

Joan Guthrie Medlen
Nutrition & Dietetics

First, take a deep breath. It always helps.

Children with Down syndrome are going to have some of the same childhood behaviors as those without. Many children without Down syndrome go through a phase of hitting or pulling hair. Often they are younger.

The question to ask is this: what does my child want to communicate and how can I teach him/her to do that in a different way?

Most likely, your child is frustrated and using the easiest most effective nonverbal approach to getting your attention or communicating something they have. They are not intentionally being naughty or mean.

Try to figure out what was happening in that moment before, during, and after the unwanted behavior. Now think of a way for your child to communicate what they needed before they become so frustrated they hit or pull hair. Teach them how to do that. It may mean using some photos, a voice output switch, learning a new sign, or simply being given the words to use with some positive encouragement to do that.

When you see your child becoming frustrated, try to step in before she or he resorts to pulling hair to communicate their frustration and show them how to tell you.

Or, if you're too late for that, tell them "pulling hair is not ok, but if they want ______ here's what they can do. Let's try it out together."

Remember: Behavior is communication.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.