Are You Heavy-Handed with Your Child’s Natural Hair?

Are You Heavy-Handed with Your Child’s Natural Hair?

As a young child, I hated getting my hair done. I can still smell the blue magic hair grease and hot comb my mom used to straighten my natural hair. The cleanse and detangle process was no better. In fact, every memory I can recall was painful and traumatizing. There’s a reason we don’t cater to young children and teenagers in our salon. Teenagers have their hair care in their own hands which usually means it is not properly cared for, and children are often terrified and/or unable to handle the process.

I once had a client who was petrified with every step of the process. The sound of the water made her cry. Her molded ponytail that was left in her hair for weeks took three hours to detangle. Many of us have stories of painful, unpleasant hair experiences. Unfortunately, these experiences happened at home at the hands of our parents.

Even when we’re babies, our appearance has heavy expectations.

Our hair may be subjected to gels and creams and put into high-tension styles. When, really, our natural hair just needs to be gently cleansed, detangled, and left alone. Why are black and brown children often subjected to this? The answer is simple and disheartening. Our image is heavily policed and judged by society and within our community. While it may not be obvious with an infant, it becomes blatantly clear as children age. Toddlers are notoriously active. They can go from pristine to nearly unrecognizable in what feels like seconds. This is perfectly normal and should be expected. They’re exploring the world and curious about everything. What isn’t normal is the discipline that often follows.

Many parents of curly-haired children expect them to treat their hair the same way an adult does. They want their child to recognize the time and effort that went into their hair. Toddlers, who are just learning to speak, are supposed to tiptoe around to maintain their style.

This fear of “unkemptness” reaches back generations.

Our community has been subjected to unimaginable cruelties and often had their children ripped away from them. The need to keep up appearances comes from a place of well-warranted, entrenched fear. But the very same practices that started as a way of keeping black and brown children safe have caused other serious issues within our community. The frustration of constantly redoing hair so their child looks “presentable” bleeds into the styling process. Some parents will “teach a lesson” by being rougher than usual after their child messes up their hair. Whether it’s knowingly or subconsciously, parents tend to subject children with tight curls to pain.

Again, this isn’t always intentional. There are plenty lot of times when parents are trying to move quickly in order to get other important things done. It’s difficult to manage time when you have little ones, especially if you’re a primary caretaker who works and has a hundred other responsibilities. They may not detangle gently or pull too hard on their child’s hair because they’re running late. Or the parent genuinely thinks that this is the only way to do hair because that was their experience. The heavy-handed approach to children’s hair care is likely due to a variety of circumstances.

But when the child flinches or cries out, they’re met with responses we’ve all heard before:

“Quit being tender-headed,” or, “Keep your head still!”

At a time when a child is learning boundaries and developing trust, they are being ignored and chastised by one of the few people they’re deeply bonded with. They may even express that they’re hurting and are told to toughen up and sit still through the discomfort and pain. They’re given the impression that they are the ones causing their own pain. Consider this. If every time a child gets their hair done is a negative experience while they’re young, as they get older that’s what they’ll come to expect.

They will expect to suffer through burns, nicks, hard yanks, and sore heads when they get their hair done. That will likely create avoidance of hair care or at least induce anxiety. Children also take to heart what is said to them. If they grow up with their appearance heavily scrutinized by their caretaker, what will stop them from thinking, “You look like nobody takes care of you.” When they’re older?

That child may grow into an adult who can’t leave the house unless everything is perfect.

Imagine a little girl who was told her natural hair was nappy and always had her edges laid by her parent. If she went outside and sweat out her press, she was admonished for wasting time (or worse, money). The majority of the compliments she received were surrounded around her appearance, so when it isn’t up to her standard, she feels hideous. This mindset follows her into adulthood.

No one wants that for their child, but that’s a sad reality. Many of us have to work hard to feel confident with our natural hair. This is from being shamed in and outside of our community. Oftentimes it starts with our parents. Our boundaries are poorly formed and we learn to put ourselves through extreme discomfort to appease others. Parents don’t do this because they’re mean-spirited or do not love their children. They do this because it’s what was done to them. It’s what they see among their family and friends. The same jokes and insults float around the community so much that it becomes the standard.

It’s up to us parents to recognize the ways we were hurt as children and how it affected us as adults.

How many times have you gotten your hair done and winced the entire time, but said nothing? It’s not because you don’t mind the pain, it’s because you were taught to expect it. We must take an honest look at ourselves so we can help our children feel safe, secure, and beautiful as their natural selves.

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