For a lot of people, bringing a child home with natural hair can be a bit overwhelming. Where do you start? From baby to teenager, the basic steps are the same. If you're overwhelmed because your child has recently arrived home with little or no hair, please do not worry about growing hair right away. Bonding is key, and you want to form the best trust relationship that you can. But when you're ready, here are the basics of what you need to know to get you started on a good routine for growing healthy hair.
There is no magic hair solution that is going to grow your child's hair overnight. Some people claim that certain hair oils and products help facilitate growth, but in general how fast the hair grows is based on genetics, and how healthy it grows is based on diet coupled with the remaining items listed below. Nutrition and water consumption is key to having the right energy sources to capitalize on genetics. Make sure your child is eating healthy foods, rich in vitamins, protein, and healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as drinking plenty of water. Winter is the toughest time to keep kids hydrated because the cold weather makes them less likely to grab a glass of water. Here are some tips to help keep your child hydrated in the winter.
Contrary to what you may have heard, naturally curly hair does need to be washed. Everyone's scalp gets dirty. How you wash will vary based on a lot of variables such as how much sebum (scalp oil) is produced, weather, genetics, play, and product build-up. A rule of thumb for babies is to wash when it's dirty (i.e., when they spit-up or gets food in it), and for toddlers and up, once a week is usually the norm. You can either wash with a sulfate-free shampoo, or co-wash, whichever is necessary to get the job done. Some washing requires a good clarifying shampoo, other washes just require rinsing out dirt and product to keep the scalp from getting clogged pores. An apple cider vinegar rinse can also be used in lieu of shampoo or co-washing. Practice and time will allow you to determine what type of wash is best. Please see our post on washing your child's natural hair for more details on how to wash.
This means use a conditioner on your child's hair after washing to help replenish the moisture lost during the cleansing. When I talk about conditioning hair, I am talking about using a product that you rinse out, not something that you leave in. Although we use leave-in conditioners in my daughter's hair, we consider that step as part of moisturizing, not conditioning. Conditioning can be a pre-poo or a deep-condition after a shampoo. Also, see our post on Conditioners 101 to help you discover the differences between different types of conditioners.
People choose to detangle at different points in the process of hair care. When in the process you choose to include it will depend on the age of your child, how much hair he or she has, how dirty it is, and how it's going to work into your overall styling routine. We tend to detangle after conditioning, before moisturizing. Other people detangle while conditioning, before rinsing out the conditioner. Do it whenever it works best for you. See our detangling post for details on our recommendations for detangling.
This step is probably the most foreign for straight-haired people, as it's not something that is usually necessary for straight hair. All of the bends in a curly hair strand make it difficult for the oil produced on the scalp (the sebum) to travel downward. The longer the curly strand, the less likely the oil is going to make it down the whole shaft. Brushing hair helps distribute the oil from root to end for straight hair. But as you will see below, we don't brush curly hair. Moisturizing combats the fact that we don't brush by providing the oil to the entire strand of hair without relying solely on what the scalp produces. What type of moisturizer you use will depend on age, hair needs, and curl pattern. We have a great overview on the differences between oils, butters, and moisture that should help clarify which to use and when. Moisturizers are added after conditioners as well as on an as-needed basis daily to keep the hair from drying out until the next wash. In addition, please see our DOs and DONTs post for moisturizing your child's hair for tips and common missteps.
Don't Mess With It
Yeah, just what the title says: The more you mess with it, the more likely it will break. The two biggest stresses on hair are manipulation and moisture loss. If you're doing the above steps, then the only remaining thing you need to be concerned with is not undoing them by over-working the hair. This means avoiding aggressive (or frequent) detangling or styling too tightly, as well as the friction that occurs from regular sleep, play, and travel. Ideally, once the hair is dry you don't want to manipulate it, either with a brush, your hands, or having it rub against anything. *insert hysterical laughter if your child is a baby or active toddler* We can't keep our kids bound up and prevent them from rolling around on their hair, but we can help protect it when they do.
Wash hair in section if there is a lot of it. Don't detangle every single day. Set it in a protective style appropriate for the length (finger coils or two strand twists if there's just an tiny amount of hair), and be sure to address sleep caps and protecting hair car seats if your child is old enough.
That's it! It's really not that complicated. The products that you will need to get you started are anything that will help you accomplish the steps above; anything more than that is extra. You can scan through our list of essentials, but each person has their own preference as to what an "essential" actually is. I've outlined what products we're using if you're really curious, as well as all the items currently in our styling bag.
As a note, if your child is coming home from someplace and already has a full head of hair, see if you can have it braided or put into a long-term protective style by someone in their country (or previous foster parent) so that you can spend your first moments home together bonding and not worrying about hair. Not only will it ease the you into a hair routine, but it will also allow you time to get to know each other and build trust.