Hair Brushing Is a Safety Issue

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children’s personal care choices.

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hair brushing
I didn’t realize this a few years ago, but my daughter’s extreme aversion to hair brushing was a safety issue in many ways. True, tangles aren’t exactly a safety issue. Self-confidence and body boundaries are, though.

Three of my four kidlets are fine with getting their hair brushed. The oldest, however, has always been incredibly sensitive and loathes it. We try to be a low-coercion family, meaning that we seek respectful, mutual solutions as much as possible. Forcing a safety issue is one thing–my middle daughter dislikes being strapped into her carseat, but although we have tried many things, including purchasing a more comfortable seat, she is still buckled up if we have to go somewhere. But hairbrushing? How do you make a safety issue out of that? Honey, if you get too many tangles … what? What dire outcome results from that? Your hair will look messy. OK, she is willing to live with that.

The consequence of messy hair is that she doesn’t fit with what our culture considers pretty. Do I really want to teach her to go through discomfort so that she will meet someone else’s standards for beauty? No. Flat out no. I don’t want her to be so afraid of someone disliking her appearance that she will violate her own standards just in hopes of appeasing her peers. If I force her to comb her hair so that she will fit in with our society’s rules for attractiveness now, what will happen five or six years from now when they want her to diet to alter body shape, or wear provocative clothing or anything else? Conforming and submitting to peer pressure are not on my list of goals for my kids.

Should she just do it because I want her to? Because if I am honest, my reasons are not particularly good ones. My own pride, mainly — I don’t want to look like a neglectful mom. She isn’t my fashion accessory, though. She is a person who should have rights over her own body.

And that is the safety issue. I don’t want her to learn that other people have a right to do what they want with her body. That an adult can force her to do something uncomfortable, even painful, through physical or emotional coercion simply because it pleases them. If I teach her that she is powerless to resist something as trivial as a hairstyle, how will she learn that her no should be respected by everyone? I have known far too many who were abused and never even told their parents because they had learned too well that adults could do whatever they wanted to children’s bodies.

I admit, there are days when the Judy Moody look gets to me. I still encourage her to brush it, particularly before participating in special occasions. And believe me, we have tried everything to make it more comfortable for her. Some things help a bit, especially slathering it with tons of conditioner in the tub, waiting awhile and then gently combing through. She still dislikes it, though.

So I try to look beyond the tangles and see the confidence of a young girl who doesn’t feel pressured to look like everyone else, who knows that her body belongs to her and that she has the right to make her own decisions. And you know what? That is beautiful. She is beautiful.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Holistic Care of your Toddler’s Teeth — Erica at ChildOrganics tells a tale of her children’s teeth issues and how she uses homeopathy and good nutrition to keep cavities at bay.
  • Bath Time Bliss : Fuss-Free Bath Time for Toddlers — Christine at African Babies Don’t Cry shares how she has made bath time completely fuss free for both her and her toddler.
  • Homemade Natural ToothpasteCity Kids Homeschooling hosts a guest post on a homemade natural toothpaste recipe that kids will love!
  • Bathing Strike StrategiesCrunchy Con Mommy offers her best tips for keeping your little ones clean when they refuse to bathe.
  • Bodily Autonomy and Personal Hygeine — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses the importance of supporting a child’s bodily autonomy in the prevention of abuse.
  • A Tub Full of Kiddos! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment has kiddos who love the water, so bathtime is a favorite evening activity!
  • The Trials of Tidying My Toddler — Adrienne at Mommying My Way shares the difficulties she has with getting her on-the-go son to be still enough to get clean.
  • Wiped Clean — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen shares her recipe for homemade diaper wipe solution to clean those sweet little cloth diapered bottoms in her home!
  • Snug in a Towel: Embracing Personal Grooming — Personal care is time consuming,especially with more than one child; but the mama at Our Muddy Boots is learning to embrace this fleeting and needful time.
  • EC: All or Nothing? — Elimination Communication. Even the title sounds complicated and time consuming. It doesn’t have to, if you adapt it to meet your family’s needs, says Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Routine Battles — In a guest post at Anktangle, Jorje of Momma Jorje outlines a simple incentive to help inspire your little one to follow a routine.
  • Redefining Beauty For My Daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger relays her struggle to define her own femininity and how her preschooler unexpectedly taught her a lesson in true beauty.
  • Rub-A-Dub-Dub, Three Girls In The Tub — Chrystal at Happy Mothering shares how she turns bath time into a few minutes of peace and quiet.
  • Montessori-Inspired Activities for Care of Self — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now has a roundup of Montessori-inspired activities for care of self and ideas for home environments that encourage independence.
  • 10 Gentle Tips for Little Ones Who Hate the Bath — Kim at life-is-learning gives 10 tips to get your little one into the bath and maybe even enjoying it.
  • The Boy With The Long Hair — Liam at In The Now discusses his son’s grooming choices.
  • Personal Care in a Montessori Home — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings shares a summary of the ways she has organized her family’s home to make for easy, Montessori-inspired toddler personal care.
  • Styling Kids — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is letting her kids decide what to look like.
  • Clean Kids: Laundry and Bath Tips — Kimberly at Homeschooling in Nova Scotia shares tips on how to get your children helping with laundry plus recipes for laundry and liquid soap.
  • How to Clean Your Children Naturally: A Tutorial — Erika at Cinco de Mommy shows you how to clean your children.
  • Cleaniliness is next to… dirt — The lapse-prone eco-mom (Kenna at Million Tiny Things) sometimes forgets to bathe the kids. Except in the mud pit.


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Dulce is learning to walk in grace with her amazing husband and four wonderful kidlets. She is a perpetual provider of magic mami milk who practices gentle discipline, shares a family bed, homeschools, teaches Spanish, and blogs at Dulce de leche. Each day brings plenty of iced coffee and a fresh lesson in trusting her children, herself and the Love that surrounds and fills us. Sometimes it feels like livin’ a vida loca, but overall, life is incredibly sweet.

83 Responses to Hair Brushing Is a Safety Issue

  1. Julie Lawrence

    Thanks for writing this … it really spoke to me. My 12 year old *has* finally started brushing her hair, but still continues to wear the same clothes many days in a row, and is always pretty grotty. Like you, I don’t much like the looks I get at the shops (and her having bare feet doesn’t help!) but as you say, I choose to respect her choices.

    • Dulce

      Thank you, Julie! It is so interesting to see how things change as they mature. Do you know why she prefers to wear the same clothes? Is it a favorite shirt, or a particular style or fabric that she likes? Or sensitivity to soaps/softeners, etc?

  2. Momma Jorje  

    Great post! Do you ever have issues getting your children to brush their teeth? We’ve had some battles around here and sometimes it just isn’t worth it. I’ve seen where some dentists recommend putting your 3yo into a headlock to brush their teeth… an idea I find appalling!

    • Dulce

      My son used to cry and throw fits because he hated toothpaste. (My girls all loved it and it was a fight to keep them from eating it!). For him, switching to a mixture of xylitol and bentonite clay made it tolerable, and his teeth are better than his sisters’, too!

  3. Kenna Lee  

    Oooh, adore your perspective and your willingness to share it. My daughter and I have used our weekly combing ritual as a practice session for “no means no and stop means stop” when it doesn’t feel good. She controls when I restart. But I’ve never gone all the way with letting her just skip the whole thing. I’m not too worried though: the other day she watched our rooster doing his business with a hen, and said, “No one is EVER going to make ME do sex.”

    • Dulce

      Kenna, I think it is awesome that you have given her practice in saying no! It really is a skill, and it can be so hard to say no to an adult if they haven’t had a chance to do it safely.

  4. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama  

    I completely agree with you. My 21 month old son has long hair and has a crazy hairdo most of the time – as well as fingernails that are too long – but it is nowhere near worth me forcing myself on him to tidy him up.

  5. alburnet

    You know, I haven’t brushed my own hair in about…three years now and I definitely love it! Of course, keeping the locs looking “neat” doesn’t mean that I’m completely maintenance free, but most mornings I roll out of bed, shake my hair, give it a good rake through with my fingers and… that usually about does it for my morning hair routine! (Unless I’m feeling fancy.)

    Thanks for the interesting read!

  6. Deborah

    I loved this post! My daughter doesn’t like brushing her hair, either. She hated it until someone gave her a cheap plastic pink brush. It pains me to hear her brush her hair, but she’s happy with the brush.

    I did find that a cheap natural bristle brush works great at getting the tangles out of her hair. A friend of mine has the Knot Genie and let me try it. It worked well, too, but it sounds like the brush is ripping through the hair. I think the natural bristle brush works just as well.

  7. Joni Rae  

    My mom used to pull a round brush straight through my curly hip-length hair, and then hit me in the head with the brush when I cried. My own daughter has long curly hair and I get terrible flashbacks when I brush her hair. (And I am so careful, with a wide toothed comb and coconut oil.)

    • Dulce

      (((Joni Rae))) I am so sorry. That is horrible! What a wonderful thing that you are making different, happier and healthier patterns with your daughter! <3

  8. Guggie  

    Excellent article! I agree with the sentiments entirely and have tried to remain conscious to these deeper concepts with my daughter. This also applies to bathing in our household.

    • Dulce

      Thank you so much, Guggie! <3 We do that with bathing, too. They don't bathe daily, but they enjoy it when they do, and they choose to often because it is fun for them.

  9. Ursula Ciller  

    This is a really thought provoking post. I prefer brushing my dry hair with a boar bristle brush as this is the gentlest type I have found. When I was a kid my mum always cut our hair short (we looked like boys but couldn’t care less about that being kids!)and were allowed to grow them longer the older we got. Even now when I encounter a painful knot (not nice I say) I alway think about chopping them off – if only they didn’t grow so slow! As for our little one, she loves brushing her hair – and mummy and daddy’s too even if she doesn’t always use the right side of the brush!

    • Dulce

      Thank you, Ursula! I preferred short hair when I was younger, too. My 3 year old cut her own hair just below her chin ;) and it looks so cute, as well as being so easy to care for.

  10. Ally

    This is a beautiful article, and thought provoking for me. I hated having my hair brushed when I was a child, mainly because my mother was not the gentlest of people, and now I always worry about my hair not being brushed enough.
    My daughter is only 7 months so this is not an issue I will face for a while (if ever) but i do hope not to pass my fears onto her, or my hang ups either! Thank you for sharing x

    • Dulce

      Thank you so much, Ally! It is amazing how such seemingly trivial things can have such a long lasting impact on our lives. I admire you so much for not passing on your fears–if more of us could do that our world would be so much more full of peace. I really believe that fear is the root of most evil.

  11. Nahuatl Vargas  

    I remember going thru a phase of not brushing all 5th grade, I love it and then it went away. I think I was expecting dreads and amaze that it never happen by itself.

    • Dulce

      Náhuatl, that is so interesting. I wonder if my daughter will experience that kind of change, too. Off topic, but I love your name and if I ever get the chance, I want to learn to speak Náhautl. I love Miguel León-Portilla’s books and find the Aztec language and culture beautiful and fascinating!

  12. kelly @kellynaturally  

    This is a really good reminder, thank you Dulce. My daughter resists brushing to the max. Like with any thing related to, “child wants parent to do something not entirely necessary but child is extremely resistant”, it’s a matter of really measuring up the NEED for that thing to get done, against the potential damage to the relationship. Unbrushed hair isn’t a dealbreaker. But the resentment that could build in a girl’s protestations being continually ignored COULD BE. Thanks for your post.

    • Dulce

      Kelly, there is so much wisdom in that for us to apply to all situations: the balance of needs vs relationship. Thank you so much for sharing that! <3

  13. Amy Phoenix  

    Dulce, this is a very thoughtful article. Your daughter’s body autonomy is absolutely more important than what other people may think of her hair!

    A quote I enjoy and have for years is “What we really are matters more than what others think of us.” Jawaharlal Nehru

    I imagine this may have already been mentioned, but I really enjoy using a pick! My hair is straight and I generally tip my head upside down, start with the ends and work toward the scalp, gently moving through snarles or snags. Maybe a similar solution could be fun for your lovely. :) Finger brushing is also effective for sure.

    Mainly, I commend you for respecting her body and staying open to ways she can feel good about all parts of herself.

  14. Kat @ Loving {Almost} Every Moment

    I also have a highly sensitive girlie, almost 6, and she HATES having her hair brushed. I find if she does it she’s fine, and sometimes she will ask us for help…so that’s when we do step in and brush, but I never would dream to run after her brush in hand! I remember hating having my hair brushed too, so I empathize and know it’s not something that’s forever :-) Thanks for raising awareness about creating a healthy sense of boundaries in our girls!

  15. Dulce

    Thank you so much, Kat. I am surprised at how many of us have such vivid memories still of our own experiences! Thank you for respecting your daughter and for encouraging us!

  16. Cindy B  

    I never really thought about how hair tangles and self-confidence might be related but I know as a young girl I had my share of tangles (having very curly hair)… and I often HATED my hair… as I got older more solutions became available and now I love my hair. :) Thanks for encouraging me to take another perspective on things ~ I don’t have a girl yet but the concept can definitely be extrapolated to boys as well.

  17. Rachel N  

    I have boys so this is not something I have to deal with but I admire your perspective. I think that I would try to encourage a shorter hair cut or brushing weekly instead of daily but if my daughter absolutely hated those ideas I would hope I could have your perspective on the situation.

  18. Samantha

    I flippin love this article. I read it over a week ago and I am still thinking about it. I love that you made me think about a little think like hair brushing in such a new way, and how it can be such a bigger issue in the long run. I love how it makes me think about my decision as a parent to enforce or not to enforce brushed hair, neat demeanor.

    I shared this article with my friends and it started a debate. I do respect the decisions made by parents in their own families according to what they need. But for all those parents who require their kids to have perfect (or at least brushed) hair before they leave the house, I would like to ask a compassionate question…why? Really, what is the big deal? What fear does it bring up? Due to how heated the debate seems to have gotten, I think it must bring up some serious fears.

    The debate about hair brushing before leaving the house, led to a discussion with my friends about trying to embrace our children’s “interesting” clothing or self decorating choices. Personally, it does bring up self-conscious-thinking for me. My son likes to decorate himself with markers like tattoos (he is four) and sometimes we go out like that. The stares I get. I feel embarrassed, like a unfit mother. But then I remind myself that my son likes it, and he is just learning about how to express himself in this world, and I try to ignore my inner dialogue, ignore the looks from strangers because, who cares, they are strangers, and go about my business.

    To me it is better than making him feel weird or bad about his self expression, creativity, or how he perceives himself. He thinks his marker decorations give him special powers. Why should I rob himself of this feeling? He is only four. Nor do I want to create a fight between us to get him to clean up before we go out.

    So just wanted to say thanks for sharing your perspective on this issue!

  19. Rebekah  

    Great article. I appreciate that you respect your daughter’s boundaries and preferences. How awesome. And I also like how you drive the point home by comparing it to a carseat. Carseats = mandatory. Brushing hair…um, no, that’s a societal expectation…nothing mandatory about that! lol. Well said!

  20. J

    The conditioner I use is Pantene Pro V Smooth and [something] and it has proven to be the most effective for me. Perhaps it would work for you too?

    My hair tangles really badly if I don’t keep it conditioned. Typically, I’ll condition it right at the end of my shower and then brush it as soon as I get out and dry off. Trying to brush it in the shower doesn’t work, even with the conditioner, and the longer I go without brushing, the harder it is.

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