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.

86 Responses to Hair Brushing Is a Safety Issue

  1. Jenna  

    I LOVE her hair and I love that you don’t make her brush it. She IS beautiful and I’m glad you are able to let that shine through!!

  2. Rebecca N

    I can definitely appreciate the points you make. Unfortunately I was in a situation where I HAD to brush a very unwilling child’s hair and it was awful. Our adoptive daughter came to us (from a neglectful home) with a terrible case of lice. The poor kiddo — she didn’t even know me and here I am having to go through her hair for about an hour EVERY night. Sigh. Guess I just wanted to point out that sometimes it IS necessary for safety and health reasons to comb a child’s hair. I tried to make it a fun bonding time — and still do try (often unsuccessfully) but gosh, it felt as if I was somehow violating her. I now try to let her and my other daughter brush their own hair and get out their own tangles, then I usually do the rest if they’re willing. But I agree that if there’s no health, sanitation issues at stake, what’s the harm? Same with unusual clothing choices.

  3. Keely

    We constantly struggle with our 7 year old with this same issue. She wants me to braid it and to put it up, but she can’t stand me brushing or combing it. Ultimately, she ends up with it down.

    We have 2 issues with the hair brushing: It’s part of good hygiene and staying healthy. She has to wash her face. She has to take a bath, etc. With her hair, if there’s a lice scare at school, we have to be able to go through her hair and examine it (which we’ve had to do). She also has some sensitive skin on her scalp and if she doesn’t wash it at least every other day (we use some low foam sulfate free stuff, so as not to make it worse), then her scalp gets itchy and red. She can’t wash it if it’s a tangled mess, we’ve tried.
    I don’t care what hairstyle she chooses, long or short, but she has to be responsible enough to care for it.
    I can understand people disagreeing with that point, and that’s fine for them. Here’s the more important issue: self-discipline. If you make a point to take care of the little things every day, they don’t become bigger catastrophes later.
    If she brushes her hair every day, then she doesn’t end up with the huge knotted, painful mess that ultimately results when she goes a few days without brushing (my kid’s hair ends up in the early dreadlock stages after 3 days, and that is very painful and uncomfortable to deal with, even with all the conditioner in the world).
    It’s a really important concept for her to learn: do a little bit every day. If you spend 10 minutes a day cleaning your room, then it doesn’t become a 4 hour ordeal on a Saturday afternoon (and maybe you can find that book you’re lamenting having lost in the clutter). If you put a little bit of money in your piggy bank every day or week, you’ll be able to buy that thing that costs $20 without having to try and save it suddenly when you want it. If you brush your hair when it’s relatively tangle free every night, then we don’t deal with 45 minutes of conditioning, rinsing, hand picking clumps of knots and crying.
    Self discipline is just as important as self confidence and body awareness for children to learn. It teaches them that it’s not just about being smart enough, cute enough, talented enough or clever enough: success is also be about hard, consistent work and persistence. It’s not about rigid rules and schedules, it’s about understanding that you have a way to keep big problems from even happening by doing the work today when it’s a small one. That’s a valuable lesson for my daughter as well.

  4. Valerie

    I just ran across a Hair Bean Brush that detangles and doesn’t hurt. Thought someone might be interested as I was when I saw it. Supposedly it is not painful or uncomfortable as other types of brushes. Google Hair Bean Brush. ;)

  5. jordan

    I am the oldest and I’ve always loved brushing my hair. Maybe because I have thick non-sensitive hair but I wonder if It runs in the family.

  6. Amber Galbraith

    I agree that we need to teach our children to own their bodies, and not coerce them into, well, anything. With hair, one consideration: Regular hair maintenance helps prevent lice and cradle cap (not limited to babies!) and is the only way to dependably find ticks. By completely foregoing any and all brushing or combing, it is much harder to prevent these legitimate health concerns. Additionally, long hair that is habitually left down can indeed become a safety issue. I think we need to allow our children to self determine, but we need to give them *all* the information, as well. Anything less is laziness and a disservice to our precious children.

  7. Stephanie Caler

    Thank you for your post! The times sure are changing. My “old-school” mom still pressures me to wear: 1) blush, 2) lipstick, 3) foundation and powder..etc. etc. I personally feel no need to spend 20 minutes of my day painting my face to an unnatural state to impress others, and I hope that while I can teach my daughter to wear minimal makeup if she so pleases, that she never HAS to. Your article put several of my concerns into words, and I plan on sharing them with my husband so that he can get a better idea of this woman-issue.

    I’d rather have a daughter that is confident about her natural self than one who always tries to change herself for someone else. Being a leader and not a follower in this respect can bleed over into other areas of life.

  8. Lori @TEACH through Love  

    I love this! My daughter pretty much did NOT brush her hair for the first six years of her life… and NOW at 8, I can’t seem to get her to STOP brushing her hair.

    It all evens out… by 12, I hope??

    We rarely coerced, and endured the rolling eyes of my family (I didn’t care half as much as they did about her hair tangles) – and now she’s ALL about personal care.

    Thanks for sharing!! – Lori

  9. jackee

    Great article, thanks for sharing. Have you thought about purposeful dreds? No combing or brushing EVER, and you can do your research and they can be clean and nice looking, something that still needs care. But also fun, you can put pretty beads in it… Did I mention, no brushing it??! ;) Good luck to you.

  10. Allegra Alluisi

    Why are dreadlocks out of the question? If God made human hair to naturally take this style, why is it so completely inappropriate in our minds?

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