Molly DeWitt

My name is Molly DeWitt and I’m a 30-something first-time mom navigating the joys and pitfalls of parenthood, working full-time, and living life as a military spouse. A California girl at heart, I will always call the golden state my home but I have learned to appreciate the “finer” things about life in the south including sweet tea, the courtesies of “Sir” and “Ma’am” and rainy summer nights.I met my husband, a Marine, while living in California. Ten years later here we are in North Carolina, by way of Virginia.I graduated from UNCW with my BA professional writing in 2008 and put that to good use for several years as a reporter for The Daily News here in Jacksonville. Following my departure from the newspaper I began work as an Early Head Start Home Visitor with the Onslow County Partnership for Children. I love what I do and am gratified daily as I work to help local families achieve their goals and raise healthy, happy children who are ready to succeed in life. In June 2011 my husband and I welcomed our first child, Emmett. He keeps us on our toes and provides us endless laughter and joy. Welcome to my world; I look forward to stretching my writing muscles and sharing the highs, lows, and all things ridiculous that happen in between.


What Does It Mean When Babies and Toddlers Pull Their Ears?

What does it mean when babies and toddlers pull their ears? 

Some will tell you it is because they are teething.  Some will tell you they do it because they have an ear infection.  Some say kids do it because they are tired and others will tell you they pull their ears because they have a sore throat. And some will say it means that it is going to snow.  Regardless, everyone has their theories on what pulling on the ear means.      

It has been in my experience when Sayle pulls his ears it could mean any of the above and nothing at all at the same time…but I still keep a close eye on him when I see him do it only because it supposedly is a “sign” of something!      

Sayle started pulling at his ears when he was a few months old.  A friend said “oh Brooke, he’s teething!”  As a new mom, I did what any of us would do-bought out Wal-Greens teething stock and waited for the fussy teething era to begin.  He pulled on his ear every now and then and I continued to wait with ora-gel in hand.  During my wait, I figured that pulling on the ear does not mean Sayle is teething at all.  A small white tooth popping from his lower gum was the teething sign I was waiting for, not a pull on the ear.    

I mentioned to another friend in passing one afternoon that Sayle was pulling his ears.  She told me to watch out for ear infections; her child pulled on his ear every time he had one.  I knew it wasn’t because he was teething, so I watched for some other symptoms of an ear infection…that never came.  If you keep up with my blog, you know I have been through many, many ear infections with Sayle and now he has tubes.  I used to think pulling of the ear meant an ear infection, but after going through 80 zillion ear infections (okay, maybe 20) I found that pulling of the ear was NOT a sign of an ear infection. Ear infection signs to me were a teary right eye, excessive fussiness, or snot coming out of a tear duct; any of those would get me to a pediatrician’s office long before a pull on the ear.

I love when people say babies and toddlers pull their ears because they have a sore throat, because in Sayle’s case that is so not true.  He caught a cold last fall that he could not kick and eventually it turned into a cough.  He finally spiked a fever of 104 during the day so we headed to the pediatrician.  He had strep throat.  The mother of all mother sore throats and get this-he never pulled his ear! 

The only ear-pulling theory I believe is that babies and toddlers pull their ears because they are tired.  After all of my ear-pulling observations through teething, ear infections, and strep throat, sleepiness is the only conclusion I have concrete evidence on.  Sayle rubs his ear lobe when he is extremely sleepy and is falling asleep.  Obviously, I’m not saying this is true for every child; I can only speak in regards to Sayle.  I am interested in what other moms feel are the reasons children pull at their ears and their experiences with ear pulling. 

 What do you think it means when children pull their ears?     

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8 Comments on “What Does It Mean When Babies and Toddlers Pull Their Ears?”

  • zanne December 29th, 2010 4:44 pm

    Natalie began gently tugging her ear when she was a baby. We soon noticed that the ear tugging was always accompanied by two fingers on the other hand going into her mouth. It was funny because the hand moving toward the ear and the hand moving toward the mouth would travel at exactly the same speed ;) We quickly realized that she does this when she gets sleepy. She turned 4 in October and this is still one of the first signs of sleepiness with her (although we are trying to break her of the fingers in the mouth now)!

  • Kristy Miller December 29th, 2010 5:31 pm

    Tristan started the ear tuggin around 18mos or so & everyone told me the same things. However I quickly realized it was his new “coping” mechanism. Anytime he felt uneasy about a situation he would go straight for that ear. It was almost as though it was his way of comforting himself. Weird I know.

  • Sarah Moore Sarah Moore December 29th, 2010 8:20 pm

    The only time Isaac messes with his ears is when I ask him where his ears are and he pulls out his already sticking out ears and then proceeds to pull mine (owch!).

    That is amusing that there are so many rumors/reasons to the why’s of ear-pulling, but as you said, each child is unique (:

  • ashley martin December 29th, 2010 11:33 pm

    Rylee pulls his ears when he is tired, but not all the time. I heard the ear infection complaint a zillion times too but I was like “I know what sleepy boy looks like and this is it”. The daycare was worried about infection but with no other symptoms I wasn’t worried. Lately the ear pulling has digressed and we have elevated to random whining to keep ourselves awake. LOL. Never heard the teething theory though.

  • Jules December 30th, 2010 11:05 am

    I agree it’s a “possible” sign of too many options and tend to not really put much thought into if I see either of the girls messing with their ears. (Which offhand they don’t do very much anyway) Hah, kind of like whining – that can mean sickness, teething, or tiredness too. :p

  • Brooke Brooke December 30th, 2010 6:36 pm

    Zanne-That is too cute that both hands travel at the same time! It’s interesting that it’s sleepiness and not teething, ear infection, etc!! Sayle does it a little when he is tired too!

    Kristy-what a great signal to you and the hubbie that he isn’t feeling comfortable! I think that’s a great coping skill and a self-soother. Did he do it when he was younger and trying to soothe himself to sleep?

    Sarah-you are so lucky that littel I hasn’t had such problems with his ears and the only time he messes with him is to point them out! With all the rumors/reasons-my head was spinning before I knew better!

    Ashley, I can’t believe you never heard the teething theory?!! Oh yes, that was the first one I heard! I would take the ear pulling over the whinning any day, Sayle whines if he isn’t ready to go to sleep but after about 10 minutes he’s down!!

    Julie-Pulling the ears, whining=sickiness, teething, tiredness, or simply because they can. Reasons are countless!!! You’re lucky with 2 sets of ears and the cold weather, you haven’t had issues with ear infections!!!

  • Jules January 1st, 2011 8:56 pm

    Hehe, the past week they both had an ear infection and husband had pneumonia. (Granted, true, we’ve only had four now amongst the two, so I can’t complain) My sensitive genes are on vacation it would appear. :)

  • Brandi April 20th, 2012 12:39 am

    My son has been pulling his ear since he found it, but it has always been just his right one.That is the ear that had problems passing the hearing screen. Now he has pulled on it to the point that he has an open sore were his earlobe connects to his head. i dont know what to do about it cause he continues to do it and so it cant fully heal. any thoughts?

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