Easy Ways to Care For Your Child’s Hair

by Amy Roberts

Easy Ways to Care For Your Child’s Hair

Tips without tears (for either of you!)

Shampoo savvy

Babies: Washing hair once or twice a week is usually enough. If your baby has cradle cap, which (despite the flakes) is an oily-skin condition, wash with a dandruff shampoo two or three times a week after massaging a little olive or baby oil onto his scalp to loosen the flakes, says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician and coauthor of Baby 411.

Toddlers: Three times a week is fine (more often if he's got a penchant for mashing bananas on his head).

Preschoolers and up: As your child's hair gets longer, wash it every other day (less often for very curly, dry, or African-American hair; in these cases, you can use conditioner once a week, too).

At any age: Always shampoo at the end of the bath so your child's not sitting in the sudsy water, which could irritate sensitive skin.

What's the difference between baby shampoo and regular?

Adult shampoos contain chemicals called anionics (most common: ammonium laurel sulfate) that create the rich lather that most people want, to feel the shampoo is cleaning well. These can be very drying, but since adults use conditioner and other styling products and have oilier skin than kids, it's not really an issue. And while baby shampoos may claim to be tear-free, avoid getting any shampoo in kids' eyes, since even the baby kind can sting.

Smooth moves

How to comb painlessly, from Anita Bianche, the director of training for Cool Cuts 4 Kids hair salons:

  • DO use a wide-tooth comb, or a boar-bristle or paddle brush, on dry hair. Avoid using your vent brush, which has tiny teeth that can snag.
  • DON'T start at the top; you'll just make tangles worse. Instead, begin at the ends and slowly work your way up the hair shaft, gently pulling apart knots with your fingers.
  • DO the hair at the nape of the neck first, which tends to get most tangled.
  • DON'T wet bad snarls. They'll only get more matted. Work in some regular hair conditioner or spray detangler, and hold the hair at the scalp while you gently comb out.

Stay-put tricks

To calm a fidgety or unhappy kid through his first (or hundredth) haircut, from Joanne Dupont, director of training at Snip-its kids' salons:

  • Get ready. Bring your child to your next haircut so he sees it's not scary. For his appointment, ask for a stylist who's comfortable with kids. Schedule it for after naptime or when he's awake and happy.
  • Get set. Bring along a favorite toy, book, or lovey. Don't warn the stylist about his nerves or fidgetiness in front of him.
  • Go! Have the stylist start with the edges (bangs, above ears, behind the neck) in case she doesn't get to finish. Let him look in the mirror as she works, and have her calmly explain what she's doing. 

Conquer that cowlick

A protruding tuft can be adorable, but you want to tame it:

  • Blow-dry hair smooth from the roots down to the ends using a closely bristled brush.
  • Let hair grow longer. "A cowlick needs either weight to keep it down or length to blend it away," says Anita Bianche.
  • Use styling gel or cream to slick it down or to play it up, as shown here. Spiky is in! Blend it in with surrounding strands on top.

Damage control

Your child played Beauty Parlor and got in a few good clips before you saw. What to do? If it's:

  • In the front: Try combing more hair forward and cutting bangs (see below for tips) to even it out. For a girl, a cute headband or clips also work well to hold and hide the short pieces while they grow.
  • A missing chunk: If you can, change the part to cover the "hole." Or ask a stylist to create a cute layered cut to blend in the jaggedness.
  • An allover hack job: Don't fix this at home! Your stylist will need to assess how to make it look best. If all else fails, try a cute hat.

All the trimmings

Start with damp hair, says Jennifer Bilek, a New York City stylist who specializes in kids' hair. Her tips:

  • Bangs: Comb hair straight back; it'll fall into its natural part. Comb hair down on sides. At forehead hairline, pull out a thin triangle-shaped wedge of hair. Don't include longer (non-bang) strands or hair farther back than three-quarters of an inch from hairline. With the middle section of hair between index and middle fingers, slide fingers down hair to brows; snip straight across. Repeat with two side sections.
  • Around ears and neck: Comb hair toward ear. Fold ear down; clip carefully with trimmers — they're easier to control than scissors — following ear's shape and neck contour, ears first, then across neck.