‘My daughter screams and struggles whenever I try to brush her hair. But when I don’t brush it, the tangles just get worse and worse.’
Spine-tingling screams. Wild thrashing. A savage struggle. Is it scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie? No, it’s even worse: it’s a toddler having her hair brushed.
No blood is shed, true, but a fair amount of tears fall – on both sides of the brush – as the chilling drama is played out. That it, must be played out, usually at least twice a day, everyday, makes the prospect of hair brushing even more hair-raising.
To take some of the terror out of taking out the tangles:
- Open a salon. Set your toddler up on a chair or high chair in front of the mirror (use a booster seat or pillow if she needs a better view), and play ‘hair salon’. While you’re primping your client, allow her to primp one of her own: supply her with a favourite long-haired doll or stuffed animal, and a hairbrush or comb to style with.
- Take two to untangle. Your toddler will be less likely to resist hairbushing if she’s participating in it. When she tires of hairbrushing her doll’s hair, let her brush her own. You take the left side, and let her take the right. Then switch sides so you can go over what she’s done. Or simply take turns brushing (‘Now it’s my turn to brush’). Just be sure you get last licks.
- Tackle tangles gently. Use a wide-tooth comb or a brush that has a bristles with plastic-coated tips; fine-tooth combs can tear and pull. Work upward on one section of hair at a time: untangle the end firsts and work your way up. To reduce pulling, hold the hair at the roots while you work on the ends. Try spray-on, no-rinse cream rinse or untangle or help untangle between shampoos.
- Curtail tangling. One way to do this is to get your toddler a short, low-maintenance haircut, which should be easier to untangle and require much less attention than long hair. Another is braiding or trying long hair back into a ponytail or a pair of plaits. Hair that’s worn loose isn’t just vulnerable to tangles, but to sticky globs of food, mud, paint (or anything else your toddler gets into), all of which can dry into major stumbling blocks for the comb and brush. If you choose to plait or tie back your toddler’s hair, however, don’t pull it tightly from the scalp; this can cause temporary bald spots. Secure these hairstyles with Barrettes, clips, or coated rubber bands specially designed for children. (Don’t use ordinary rubber bands, which can break and pull the hair – painful for the child and unhealthy for her hair – when they are removed.) Yet another strategy is to plait your toddler’s hair before bedtime – assuming she doesn’t protest and her hair is long enough – to help ensure trouble-free brushing in the morning.
No matter what your child’s hairstyle, combing our tangles before the shampoo will make combing out after the shampoo less of a trial. So will smoothing suds through the hair (instead of vigorously working hair up into a snarl when lathering), and using a tangle-reducing conditioner (or a conditioner shampoo).
- Take bows (or barrettes) when it’s over. Do her hair up with pretty accessories (let her choose them) as the reward for sitting through the brushing. And don’t forget to reward your toddler’s ‘client’ the same way.