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Natural Hair Care Tips For Kids

Natural Hair Care Tips For Kids

Halley Dean
Ellis E. Mbeku/Shutterstock

If you are a white mom of black children, whether they came to you through adoption, foster care, or your own womb, it’s entirely possible that you started out as ignorant as I did. We don’t know what we don’t know. But here’s what I do know after sixteen years of caring for my children’s natural hair.

One of the greatest shocks of my life happened in the last few months of my pregnancy, when the woman conducting my sonogram announced, “Wow, this kid has a lot of hair!” I’m a pale Irish lass who didn’t grow enough hair to hold a barrette until well past my second birthday. It never occurred to me that I would give birth to a child with hair. I silently doubted the technician, but sure enough, my first born emerged with a head full of shining ebony curls, the color of ink, and soft as bird feathers.

I wasn’t prepared for a baby with hair, and so I took care of it the same way I took care of my own — washing it every day or every other day. To my great sadness, those beautiful curls began to break off. My son, Lucas, is mixed. His father, my now-ex-husband, is black. I asked him if he knew why Lucas’ hair was breaking and he shrugged and suggested I call his mother. That was sixteen years ago, thus beginning my long journey with black hair care.

If you are a white mom of black children, whether they came to you through adoption, foster care, or your own womb, it’s entirely possible that you started out as ignorant as I did. We don’t know what we don’t know. But here’s what I do know after sixteen years of caring for my children’s natural hair.

[For the sake of housekeeping, I am going to refer to hair in this essay as either “black hair” or “white hair.”  This is a HUGE oversimplification. In real life, it’s much more complex, but since we’re starting with the basics, I’m using generalized terms.

DON’T OVERWASH

Even though Lucas’ hair texture seemed to have more in common with mine than with his father’s, I learned that that black hair tends to be dryer than white hair. Washing too often leads to breakage. My mother-in-law taught me that once a week is plenty. I also recommend using a co-wash rather than a shampoo. Co-wash is gentler and doesn’t strip the natural oils. We use Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk Cleansing Conditioner and As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner.

Natural Hair Care For Kids, Raise Magazine
Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk Cleansing Conditioner
Natural Hair Care For Kids, Raise Magazine
As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner

EVERY CHILD HAS DIFFERENT HAIR

I remarried when Lucas was seven and welcomed my second son soon after.  When I found out I was having another boy, I assumed he would be Lucas part II. But when Asher was born in the summer of 2011, he was different from Lucas in every way. In terms of his hair, it was much lighter, the color of honey, with a kinky, woolly texture identical to his father’s. Though his hair and scalp are also dry, they are dry in a different way than Lucas’. Black hair care is definitely not one size fits all. Asher needs a thicker, heavier duty moisturizer. Unfortunately, a lot of thick moisturizers contain alcohol or alcohol byproducts, which ironically dry out hair. I reached out to a friend of mine, a gorgeous black woman with natural hair, who has two mixed sons of her own, to ask for advice.  She introduced me to the number one game changing product for all of my kids.

COCONUT OIL

If you don’t know about this miracle product, let me tell you all about it: Coconut oil can do everything. Have a baby with sensitive skin, prone to diaper rash, but diaper creams on the market seem to make it worse? Coconut oil. Need to remove stubborn makeup? Coconut oil. Dry hands or cracked feet? Coconut oil. If your child is having trouble gaining weight, cook with coconut oil! My sweet friend Leslie taught me it’s also the BEST moisturizer.  You can buy a large jar anywhere — Target, Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s (our favorite) – for less than $10.  Asher is eight years old now and I have yet to find another moisturizer that compares. We use it daily, applying a dime-sized amount of oil to his damp hair. No rinsing! I simply rub the oil in my palms, dip my hand in the sink just long enough to get it wet, and then work it through his hair. For my daughter, I rehydrate her curls every morning by spritzing them with water and then running the oil thru it with my fingers. It’s a natural product that doesn’t contain alcohol, so it is safe to use on a child of any age, and it doubles as a moisturizer for dry skin of every color.

Natural Hair Care For Kids, Raise Magazine
Trader Joe’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil

ASK FOR HELP

I think it’s important to stop here and take a moment to recognize that people of color are often expected to do the emotional labor of educating white people. No black person has a responsibility to teach you how to do your child’s hair, especially in the age of the internet where there are countless tutorials at your disposal. That said, it has been my experience that if you approach the issue from a genuine place of wanting to know better so you can do better, most women will graciously share their expertise.

Because of this, if you do have questions, do reach out.  It’s important to do it with gratitude, and with recognition that this person is doing you a favor.  At the end of the day, we’re all mothering children and trying to do the best we can, and I do believe that bonds us together.  I had some wild learning experiences with my boys’ hair, but they were small compared to the learning curve with my daughter. Halo’s hair is the color of Hershey’s Kisses and her texture is somewhere between both of her brothers’.  She is also stubborn as a mule and very tender headed, which has led to several fights between us. It quickly became obvious to me that Halo’s hair was above the knowledge I had, so I reached out to the black women around me and asked for help.

FIND A BARBERSHOP

It is essential for you to find your child a barber or beautician who is familiar with black hair — how to cut it, care for it, and style it. For boys, the barbershop is one of the cornerstones of the black community. Your son deserves to have his hair cut property and to be provided with this cultural touchstone. If all of the parents in your house are white, this is even more important. If there aren’t any black barbershops in your area, find one, even if it’s a bit of a drive. If you don’t know anyone who can give you a recommendation, look online and read the reviews. If you are living in an area that is largely to entirely white, it can become tiresome to your child to be the only brown face they see. The barbershop not only ensures that their hair is being properly cared for, it gives them a place to be a part of their own culture.

It is equally important for your daughter. Even if she is mixed and her texture seems to be “whiter” in nature, it’s still best to find a salon that understands black hair care. As I placed my daughter in the chair for her first haircut, I looked up at the stylist and said, almost in tears, “I really don’t know what I’m doing.” She taught me that Halo should be sleeping in a silk cap, or at the very least, on a satin pillowcase, to help reduce breakage. She also showed me how to put Halo’s hair in twists at night so it wouldn’t be so wild in the morning.

Halo and I still battle about her wearing a silk cap, and I think it’s because we started the practice too late. As soon as your baby is old enough to not suffocate, I recommend getting her one.

Natural Hair Care For Kids, Raise Magazine
Hirigin’s Soft Pure Satin Silk Sleeping Cap Night

It takes a village to raise a child, and sometimes that village is virtual. One of the best things about technology is having so much information at our fingertips. I highly recommend YouTube tutorials and Facebook groups for more information and inspiration.

If this feels like a lot at once, let me summarize:

  1. Don’t overwash. I cannot stress this enough.
  2. Coconut oil. For everything.
  3. It will be fine. Every child, regardless of race, comes with a learning curve. You will figure it out. Showing up for your kid and being committed to meeting their needs is the recipe for parenting success.
What are your natural hair care tips? Share with us in the comments.
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