If your toddler would rather eat a pile of raw broccoli than let you near them with a hair brush or a comb, you aren’t alone. And it’s not just toddlers—many preschoolers and school-aged kids feel the same way.
“Most kids don’t like having their hair brushed because it hurts,” says Daniela Serban, a manager at Melonhead kids’ salon in Mississauga, Ont. And after rolling around in bed all night or playing all day, it’s common for little ones to have messy, tangled tresses. Shorter hair styles are usually manageable at every age, while long hair can lead to battles when it comes to brushing. That meltdown your kid has when you mention “getting out the tangles”? We’ve all been there!
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to prevent knots and make brushing more fun (or at least easier for your child to tolerate on a daily basis). Read on for some helpful tips based on hair type.
Hair type: thin
Before you brush, spritz a leave-in conditioner or detangling spray through the lengths of your little one’s hair—but don’t overdo it. Thin hair often tangles easily, and a lot of product can leave it feeling oily. Serban recommends brushing twice a day, in the morning and before bed, to prevent big knots from forming in the first place. Consider keeping hair in a loose braid overnight. Then, when you brush, start halfway down the hair shaft, as opposed to at the crown. Hold all of the hair in one hand, then brush gently in small strokes as you work the tangles out, making your way down to the ends. Once the lengths of hair are smooth, run the brush from the crown of the head through to the ends, to finish the job.
Hair type: thick, with or without waves or loose curls
Use the strategy described above for thin hair, but be more generous with detangling products and work in small sections. Regular use of deep conditioning products will add moisture, which over time should prevent future knots since dry, frizzy strands are more prone to tangles. Avoid using round brushes or ones with coarse bristles, like you might use on yourself when doing a blow-out, since they can be rough on kids’ scalps and make knots worse. Opt instead for a paddle brush with soft plastic bristles or a detangling brush specifically designed for tangle-prone kids’ hair (products like Knot Genie or Wet Brush are available in most haircare aisles and at beauty supply stores). If a brush doesn’t work well, ask your child’s hair stylist to recommend a great detangling comb that suits their hair type.
Hair type: tight or textured curls
Thick hair that’s textured or tightly coiled, such as Black hair, typically requires more moisture and less frequent shampooing to avoid damage. Washing once a week might even suffice! Adding moisture from oils and/or conditioner is critical to avoiding both tangles and breakage, but the type of moisture you’ll need depends on the specific texture of your child’s hair. This blog offers great tips on assessing curl type, deep conditioning options, protective hairstyles (for example, twists or braids), and how to properly wrap your child’s hair at night. It also discussed how to care for Black hair worn in a natural afro (again, moisture and a great bedtime hair protection routine are key).
Brushing and combing tips for all hair types
If your child hates having their hair brushed or combed out, make a point to do it once or twice a day as part of your family’s routine—for example, before school and before bed. This may sound counterintuitive, especially if your little one starts screaming and foot-stomping when she sees the hairbrush coming, but keeping tangle-prone strands smooth is essential for quicker and more positive experiences over time.
And if those hair care sessions remain a battle? Sing a song (something from a favourite movie can distract a fussy toddler) or do it in front of the television. You can also set up a
“hair salon.” Wrap a towel around your child’s shoulders, spritz their hair with water or leave-in conditioner and lay out fun accessories like colourful elastics, bows and clips for them to choose from. If your child is still unsure, practise on a favourite dolly first. “Some of my clients have said watching a YouTube video of little kids having their hair styled has helped, too,” says Serban.
Finally, if your child still isn’t convinced that brushing her hair is fun, just keep trying. Have patience, hang in there and have hope—this too shall pass. “Most kids will outgrow this eventually,” Serban says. And if not, remember that they’ll take over their own hair care one day.