8 tips for straight-haired mamas with curly haired kids

Guest post by Daisy Coles
Curly-haired mama and child -- photo by Daisy Coles.
Curly-haired mama and child — photo by Daisy Coles.

I recently got lost in a quagmire of informative sites, forums, and blogs devoted to the topic of curly hair (here’s but one example of the genre). Here and there, I noticed that every now and then in this (surprisingly voluminous) tract of curly discussion, a straight-haired mother would rear her (smooth, shiny, un-frizzy) head asking questions about how to care for her children’s curly hair. These were women who didn’t have a a curly-headed gene to their name but had somehow, poor things, managed to spawn a lil’ moptop.

I have rampantly curly hair. And my daughter’s hair is increasingly a frickin’ clone of my own, in terms of structure, colour, texture, frizziness and pigheaded stubbornness. I thought that, for the benefit of any mama out there bringing up a little Taylor Swift, a little Adrian Grenier, or, god forbid, perhaps even a little Kenny G, I’d share some wisdom based on 31 years of personal experience.

The best guiding principle I’ve heard about caring for curly hair is to think of it as requiring the “delicates” cycle. Straight-haired people, lucky bastards, get to chuck their hair in the ordinary old everyday wash. We curlies need to take more care, and similar principles apply: not too much heat, not too many chemicals, and the less handling, the better.

Here are my eight tips for caring for your kidlet’s curly hair:

  • Don’t brush it, ever.
  • Don’t use a hair-dryer on it, ever.
  • If you MUST brush it (and the only time that’s permitted is when dreadlocks have developed or are imminent) brush it with your fingers while it’s wet. If that ain’t working (ie, you’ve got, like, a baby Captain Jack Sparrow on your hands), brush it with a good sturdy brush, while it’s wet. NEVER brush it dry, unless you think a dandelion is a great model for a human head to aspire to.
  • It will look fluffy and dry (read: hideous) after being washed and potentially for days after that; commercial shampoo strips it of its natural oils. Newsflash: you don’t actually need to wash a child’s hair (even if it’s straight) with shampoo; it’s fine to just wet it, to rinse out the sand or the food or whatever else has found its way in there.
  • This won’t be appropriate for babies, because it involves a bit of time and patience, but let me tell you about my own routine for washing my hair. I don’t like to use shampoo at all: after years of experimentation I’ve found that the best thing that works for me is a weekly 20-minute mask of egg yolk, olive oil and honey in equal proportions. That’s gonna sound either crazy crunchy (if you’re not very crunchy yourself) or needlessly smug (if you already have crunchy tendencies), but it’s the truth. It doesn’t smell as pleasantly of the salon as Pantene does, but it works. If I’m lacking time I’ll run conditioner through it instead, just to feel like I’m doing something to combat the constant threat of brittle dryness curly hair faces.
  • The best way to accentuate curls and to minimise frizz is to wet the hair, preferably in cold water, and leave it. Don’t even towel it dry: let the sun do the job. I give my own hair a blast of cold water just before I get out of the shower and then leave it to dry naturally, with a towel around my shoulders to catch the drips. For Miss Bee, I wet my hands with cold water and pat the water on to her head, picking out stray curls here and there with my fingers: this is enough to define them and somewhat tame them.
  • Plaits (normal, French, fishtail, you name it) will look terrible in curly hair. Fringes are also a no-go; ponytails often are. The best thing you can do is always just to keep your hands off it and let it speak for itself (if it could speak it would probably have one of those really loud nasal voices with a wicked New York Jewish accent, like Fran Drescher — “Oh Mr SHEF-field!”).
  • Find a hairdresser you absolutely trust to cut it, and never ever let them leave the city, emigrate, change careers, or die.

Good luck, straight-haired comrades!

Comments on 8 tips for straight-haired mamas with curly haired kids

  1. That last point really made me laugh. I finally, FINALLY found the perfect hairdresser who, despite having straight hair herself, totally got my wild locks. And then she vanished. I haven’t gotten my hair cut in almost a year because I have to start looking from scratch now 🙁

    Also, I should mention that although this post talks about brushing, I highly recommend a comb instead of a brush. Again, it should only be used when the hair is wet and possibly saturated with conditioner. I find a comb causes less pain than a brush.

  2. Amen! My mom has wavy hair and I had Shirley Temple curls that have loosened up over time but no one in my family has hair like mine. So my mom made every mistake in the book with my hair and it took an intervention from a curly-haired friend in high school before I ever figured out how to take care of my curls. I second the hairdresser tip. I cheated on my hairdresser once and it took me MONTHS to recover!

    My advice to straight hair parents of curly-cues is to find someone with curly hair that looks well maintained and find out where they go and what products they use. The last thing I do in the shower is rinse the conditioner out of my hair and then drape a towel underneath my really wet hair. Put a product in and then comb it through, flip my head over to scrunch and then clip my hair up on my head in sections so the weight of my hair doesn’t drag down my roots. I also hate the feeling of wet hair so it keeps it off my neck while I get dressed.

    • The same thing happened to me! In fact, I didn’t even know the full extent of my curliness until I was going to the junior prom in high school and the hair dresser just let my hair dry on its own. I had always brushed my hair because that’s what my mom taught me. LOL.

  3. I don’t have hair quite as curly as those pictures, but I do have rather curly hair when it’s short and it tends to wavy when it gets longer, but it has always looked amazing when braided. It just has to be done by someone who knows what they’re doing.

    • Yeah, I was confused by that. I think that curly hair looks awesome braided. You just have to do it loosely and allow the curl to still be there in the braid. Then it really looks like those effortless voluminous braids that are so in fashion right now.

      • I have curlier, thicker hair than the above image, and my options for braids are either braid it immediately after washing, or do not braid it. The braid has to be tight, too. Anything else and it just looks awful. The sheer amount of curl somehow manages to curl the entire braid, too. Hair is so weird.

      • Definitely disagreed with that point. I have super curly hair and I wear a braid in my hair almost every day! I can braid it wet, (and when I unbraid it, the curls will be slightly milder but still lovely), I can braid it dry and curly, or I can braid it when the curls who have been combed out (because wrestling with the tangles that come from wearing it down and curly every day is a nightmare. So sometimes, I comb out the curls, and wear it in a braid for a few days (recombing every day).)

        • I think your hair’s braid tolerance really depends on how often you braid you hair though. If you don’t accustom your hair to it, most curly heads look like frightened porcupines.

  4. Just remember that everyone has different hair, even curlies. what works for one curly might not work for another. I find lots of good advice from the people at http://www.naturallycurly.com. It’s a great resource even if you don’t have curly or wavy hair, but I like that they have people talking about everything from wavy, to coily to kinky etc. People share hair recipes, what cheap products are best, and there is even a salon finder.

  5. Thank you! I am not a mama but I used to have awesome pin straight hair, so much so it wouldn’t hold a curl no matter what you tried. Something bizarre happened around 25 and now I have curls that I have no clue what to do with. So this post is actually really good advice for dealing with my own morphing mop.

    • I have a friend with a similar story. Very very straight, then in her last year of high school she rebelliously shaved all her hair off, totally bald! It grew back into thick, tight curls. WEIRD!! 😀

      • I’m in a kind of similar boat! I always had straight hair growing up but when I was about 24, I cut my butt-length hair off to chin-length.

        A few years later, I grew it long again, & now it’s wavy, which I love but it’s been interesting figuring out how to have it be romantic waves and not frizzy waves.

        Side note: my mom is Korean & has that thick, straight Asian hair but my dad has curly red hair, which has equaled interesting hair genetics on my sister & I. o_O

  6. Yes yes yes. My mom has wavy hair and my hair is only a bit wavier than hers, but it took me til my 20s to figure out how to take care of it without being in a constant state of frizz. Maybe I should let her know that all the times I ran around the house screaming and refusing to let her brush my hair I was actually right… 😉

  7. About once a week we wash our kid’s hair with JUST conditioner. The only other “product” we use is coconut oil–we rub a schmear of it into our hands and then into his hair whenever his hair starts looking a little frizzy. This has kept him dread free and seems to make the curls, well, curls and not something Einstein like. We also avoid rubbing his head with the towel to dry–instead we blot and let his hair air dry (not sure what to do about that in winter!).

  8. I am a curly-haired gal pregnant with my first child. My husband has seriously straight, thick hair that has a personality of its own, so I am a bit worried that our kid is going to have serious *hair*. I am not-so-secretly opening it gets *my* hair, because at least I know how to deal with that… a very low-impact shampoo every 3-4 days, conditioner every day, then a nice curl enhancing product (I currently use the DevaCurl gel) and an air dry with curl clips. My mom, who has lovely straight hair, and my dad, whose answer to his curls was the buzz cut, never had a clue what to do with mine.

    • The one piece of advice I have for us super straight haired folks is that often straight hair can look oily if over-conditioned. I stopped using daily conditioner and now use regular conditioner the way most people would use an intense repair conditioner – just every so often in the bath, and my hair looks so much better then it did when I used to shampoo and condition every day. I also try to shampoo less often, but this is a bit of a challenge because my hair looks so greasy so easily in between washes.

  9. Awesome post. I specifically love this line: “Straight-haired people, lucky bastards, get to chuck their hair in the ordinary old everyday wash” (started cracking up in the office, it’s so true!).

    I agree with the comb idea. Also, a trick I learned from my African American friends (which works for most types of curly hair) is if it’s not behaving at all while it’s dry, to run a small (tiny) bit of conditioner through it with your fingers. It will help the curls re-define and look much better for the day. This is especially helpful when living in the hot and humid summers of the South. =)

    • Braid it at night. I have very thick curly hair, and it was waist length for all of my childhood. The rule was it had to be in braids before bed, or it was getting cut off. You’d be surprised how quickly a girl will learn to french braid her own hair under threats! Even a looser braid will keep it from tangling, and if you want to “reset” the curls in the morning, as other commenters have suggested you can just dampen her hair with cold water and spritz some detangling conditioner in. And if you still have detangling problems, I recommend a wide-tooth comb – NOT a brush.

  10. What do you do to maintain the curls once her hair is dry? If my daughter sleep on her curls, even if they don’t tangle, they totally lose their shape/get frizzy. We find ourselves using a spray bottle to soak her hair, comb it out and let it dry to reshape the curls and it takes a bit of time. Is there anything to do to maintain or refresh her curls?

    Same thing for preventing really bad tangles when she sleeps? She’ll go to sleep with tangle free hair and wake up and the top layer on the back of her head has formed a tangled mat. Out comes the spray bottle and comb.

      • How long is his hair? Do you think this would work with long hair? My daughter has really thick, fine textured, ringlets below her shoulders.

        Does anyone use a satin pillowcase to help prevent tangling?

        • His doesn’t get long…just big, so about 2 1/2 inches of curls out from his head. But, I think it would work just fine with long hair–I know folks with girls who add a little olive oil to a spray bottle and lightly mist the hair and then scrunch it…that may work better for you.

    • I have long curly hair, and my favorite trick for this is to braid my hair in a really loose braid right before bed. It still gets a little frizzy/tangled, but not nearly as bad. In the morning, comb it out with your fingers and maybe add a little water to redefine the curls.

    • Don’t have curly hair, but I have really long hair that tangles in sleep (and tries to strangle me). I usually do a loose braid to keep it from going every which way.

      You can also get a satin sleep cap, I think, instead of a pillowcase. They’re like shower caps, but for sleeping comfortably. That might stop it from tangling a lot and keep it out of the way without worrying about having to braid it.

    • I don’t know how long her hair is, but I’ve discovered that putting my hair in a loose ponytail on top of my head (my hubby calls it “pinappleing”) before going to sleep helps keep it from getting too nasty during the night. Keeps the curls still curly too.

    • there is a trick called “pineappleing” where you put curly hair in a ponytail, in a *scrunchie* on top of the head… like the leaves on a pineapple 🙂 it helps keep curls from getting slept on and flat and it works for me!

  11. my girls are African-American and have curls that are significantly more intense than any pictured above, although it stops short of being kinky. I think the above is good advice, except for some of the styling stuff. SUPER curly/kinky hair does great in braids, and can actually thrive and grow with less breakage when put in protective braided or twisted styles. But maybe that is a different discussion – this post seems to address curly hair most often seen on folks not of African origin.

    In general what I’ve been told and read is that the curlier/kinkier the hair the less it needs to be washed and the easier it is to dry out, which can cause breakage. My girls hair is rarely washed or co-washed: and then only to remove product buildup.

  12. Love this! My little one ended up with straight hair like her Dad, but I have curly hair that I have never been able to tame! Thanks for the tips!!

  13. As a woman with curly/nappy/kinky hair, I totally agree with the comb idea. I don’t like to comb too often, but when I do I add it to my shower routine. Combing wet hair really takes the pain out of combing (and believe me, I’ve had a lot of painful combing moments in my life, even one breaking in my hair– combing trauma!). And after combing in the shower my curls end up looking quite fabulous. Don’t know why, but I don’t question it. 🙂

  14. My sister and I have thick curly hair, but our mom had straight, thin hair. She used to *insist* on brushing our hair daily when it was dry. Nightmare!

    Finally, at about the age of 9 or so I led my sister and I to revolt and our mom was never allowed to touch our hair again.

  15. Maybe there needs to be a post about 8 tips for mamas with *extremely*-curly haired kids. I have a curly-haired kid (born with straight hair, but the texture is curling up, and could keep getting tighter) but I am a tightly-curled mama.

    1- Always use a wide-tooth comb, unless you are making a part or combing a verrrrry small section to twist or plait.

    2- Style wet, unless the curl is already stretched out.

    3- Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.

    4 – After moisturizing, use a sealant to lock it in.

    5 – Don’t ever work against the curl. Work with the texture you have. It’s not a competition, so don’t try to get it to look like someone else’s hair.

    6 – Curly hair is extremely fragile, keep headbands and elastics to a minimum. If you must, use pins, clips or haircombs.

    7 – Cover your hair with a scarf, preferably silk or satin, before going to bed. This will prevent breakage.

    8 – Plaits, twists, and dreadlocks look AWESOME. Do it.

  16. Curly mama with straight haired baby(at least for now.) This is great advice. I do want to echo some people that every curly girl and boy has a different way to care for their locks. One thing I learned after 20 years is to EMBRACE the frizz. Seioursly, let it frizz because the more you fight it, the more it will get heavey with too much oils and product. Frizz comes naturally when you like in a very humid place and the best thing is to realize that it’s just part of being a curl-head.
    Also, accept breakage. Unlike straight hair that breaks from lack of trims, extreme dryness and too much heat, curly girls and boys hair breaks at the sheer thought of it. Treatments and trims help but as soon as you comb it with your fingers/comb or try to style it a certain way, it will break. The curls want to knot up and make you scream. The life of curly hair is dependent on lots of care and acceptance.
    Maybe that didn’t help anyone but now you know that some things can’t be changed. Curls are an amazing gift and I love having them(now at least…) so good luck mama’s.

    • I know what you mean about just accepting the frizz! Mine is almost always frizzy, and everyone says it must be really dry and I need a better conditioner. Um no, those are curls. Not all the new “baby” hairs fall in line with the others, so they just stick out like little rebels. I try not to make my hair too smooth or controlled because if its going to be frizzy it should at least frizz evenly. Ha! Also, I’d rather have body, and frizz than totally flat hair. I wouldn’t know how to style it.

  17. Also could we get some adivce for striaght hair for curly mama’s with perfect haired babes? I kinda have no clue how much I should condition it down the road or if it needs some secret love.

    • As someone who’s had straight-as-a-pin hair my entire life, I can tell you that it’s kind of anything goes. My hair lives through endless torture in the form of bleaching and rainbow colors of dye. The tip about not really needing to wash kids’ hair much still applies. My mom used baby shampoo on my hair until I hit puberty. The main difference among people with straight hair is how thick/coarse versus thin/fine it is. If your baby has thicker hair, just use a little more shampoo and be a little more gentle with the brush. When he/she hits an age where they start to require daily showers, for me it was around 11 or 12, just go to the store and find a shampoo/conditioner combo that’s labeled to address their greatest hair need: oily/dry/frizzy/colored/etc.

    • Straight hair also doesn’t need much conditioning, and can be so silky that getting clips and things to stay in can be a challenge. Regular conditioner is, for me, like a repair thing (which I use every couple of weeks).

      The only big problem I have had is that some hairdressers don’t know how to manage straight, fine hair. I had someone try to thin my hair once after I had just explained that I wanted more volume (this is my hair rally cry “MORE VOLUME!”). I’ve also had cuts that weren’t perfectly symmetrical, which is really cool if that’s what you’re going for, but this was clearly not intentional. Mistakes show up in straight hair like crazy.

      Also – as tempting as the perm can be, it’s not necessarily a choice you want to make for your kid. My mom always permed my hair or kept it short rather than letting it “just hang limply” as she would describe my natural hair texture, which was the same as hers. At the time I was excited, because I was fixing this thing that was wrong with me, but in retrospect I’m a little bit jealous of the little girls with their long hair, who learned to do things like braid. There is something beautiful in all the hair types, and it’s important that your kid knows this, whether their hair is different from yours, or has the same qualities that you’re always trying to “fix” in your hair.

  18. As hairdresser, I highly recommend the brand mixed chicks kids for and child with moderately curly (more than just a bit of wave) to extremely kinky hair. WE use it on my 7 year old nieces fine blonde hair and it works miracles, especially since she is at the age where she wants to take care of her own hair.

  19. I’ve finally stopped denying that I have wavy hair. I would blow dry with hot hot heat and brush til it was slightly poofy, but straightish. The last month or so I’m blow drying with cool air, toweling more, and brushing less. I clean my air using the baking soda/apple cider vinegar method to just keep a balance of oils. It doesn’t smell like rainbows and happiness, but it certainly looks better.

  20. I have wavy thick hair and my daughter has thin straight hair. Best piece of advise we got for her hair was sleeping on a satin pillow case. I know sleep on one because I noticed my hair is not Texas big any more when I wake up. Just a suggestion to all ladies with long hair!

  21. I have learned some amazing tips, tricks and great product recommendations from youtube. I need lots of guidance so it’s nice to have people show you what to do. There is also a site called vanilla care chocolate hair which is aimed at foster parents but has a bunch of good info too.There I love my curly hair and have learned so much about how to treat it this way.

  22. I have curly hair and until about a year ago didn’t own a brush (I’m nearly 30!). My friends think it is the weirdest thing. I only brush it when it’s straight — the rest of the time, I “brush” it with my fingers in the shower with my favorite conditioner. Growing up my hair was brushed frequently and all it did was make the knots and tangles worse.

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