How to get a hairbrush to work in a kid's hair
November 6, 2007 10:42 AM   Subscribe

How to brush a 4-year-old's hair who hates it?

Asking for friends who have a 4-year-old daughter.

They're having trouble getting the 4-year-old to not go insane every morning when it's hair brushing time. The little girl hates it.

Parents - Native American and Hungarian. The daughter has shoulder length, very thick hair. When she wakes up, it's kind of an afro - sticking straight up and out. They use detangling shampoo and lots of conditioner, but worry about how dry the little girl's hair seems to get. Oil treatments did not work.

When it's time to get her hair brushed in the morning, the little girl thinks up any reason to avoid it.

They are looking for help - tips on strategies to try (games, tricks, anything), products to try (haircare gels/liquids or combs/brushes), anything. What do you suggest, hive mind?
posted by cashman to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Let her comb mom's hair first. Of course, time might be an issue, but maybe do that at night for a while. HAve mom act like it is a big treat to have 4yo comb her hair nicely. Then reciprocate.

posted by ian1977 at 10:45 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Explicitly reward good behavior. Good girls get tasty breakfast goodies.

At the same time, don't be afraid of natural consequences. "If you don't brush your hair, you will look silly. If you go to school looking silly, the other kids will make fun of you. Now, do you want me to brush your hair or not?"

I happily sent my son to school in his pajamas. Once. It didn't kill him. And we never had another argument over getting dressed again.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:48 AM on November 6, 2007 [5 favorites]

Give her a short hair cut that doesn't require hair brushing? Talk with the little girl beforehand, but she might be quite amenable to it.

The girl's hair gets dry. Instead of using lots of shampoos, have they tried not washing her hair at all? Give it a good wetting and scrub her scalp with their fingers during bath time, but do nothing else--maybe rub a few drops of jojoba oil on their palms and spread it through the wet hair (you have to spread it on wet, not dry), especially at the ends. I use this method and end up needing only a little shampoo (like the size of a dime on my palm) once every week or two, and my hair is now softer and healthier than it has ever been before.

She would probably need even more time between washings because her scalp won't produce as much oil as an adult's. Within a few weeks they should notice a difference. Though a crucial part of this is brushing the hair so you spread the natural oils from the scalp to the ends, preferably using a regular brush then following with a boar-bristle. If they can get through those two weeks the hair will be in much better condition and brushing will go easier for the girl.
posted by Anonymous at 10:49 AM on November 6, 2007

If she would let them brush and braid her hair before bed she would wake up with hair that, upon unbraiding, would be nice and untangly and wavy. That's what my parents did - I had super thick, always-matted-in-the-morning hair myself as a kid. I got some volume removed once or twice a year with thinning shears, which was also a huge help.
posted by iconomy at 10:50 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can she wear braids while she sleeps? Also, I was a big fan of Johnson's No More Tears detangling spray when I was a child. It really worked well on my super tangled hair and I even used it as an adult when I totally damaged my hair through over-processing. It was the only thing that allowed me to get a comb through my hair after washing it.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:54 AM on November 6, 2007

Also you say that they're having trouble getting a brush through her hair. Use a comb. It'll detangle better and allows for much more control and less yanking of the hair. I have this kind of detangling comb that works great. Mine is a Goody brand, purchased in the the US, though.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:57 AM on November 6, 2007

I have hair like this and used to scream and cry when my mom brushed my hair as a kid. It sucks to have a brush dragged through really thick tangled hair, even for an adult.

What works for me as an adult is not to wash my hair so much. I wash my hair a couple of times a week. The dryer and cleaner my hair is, the more ratty and tangled it gets. I use a couple of different leave-on conditioners. The blue Paul Mitchell leave on conditioner works really well. Check out the ethnic hair product section of a pharmacy for some spray on conditioners and moisturizers. My mom used to use this Johnson & Johnson moisturizing spray on my hair when I was a kid & it seemed to work pretty well.

They might want to comb through her hair with a hair pick before brushing it to get all the big tangles out. Then, use a natural bristle brush and gently start at the bottom of her hair. Also, satin pillow cases seem to keep hair from getting so ratted at night.

Also, maybe consider a shorter hair cut until she is old enough to help take care of her own hair.
posted by pluckysparrow at 11:02 AM on November 6, 2007

Two things really helped when I was a kid who hated getting her hair brushed.

One was to switch to a hard bristle brush--my mom had always been a Fuller brush loyalist, but to this day I'm not sure how those soft bristles, though well made, are supposed to help get tangles out of hair. The brush that changed my life was a vented brush with hard nylon bristles with bulbs at the top, sort of like this one, I guess. Nowadays I've gone all the way and just use a regular plastic comb. My hair's not that thick, but maybe there's a heavy duty comb that would work for her.

The other was to start washing/conditioning my hair at night, combing it while it was still slick from the water and conditioner, and immediately putting it into two long braids. In the morning, it wouldn't be perfect, but there wouldn't be the insane, painful mat of snarls on the back of my head that would be there if I left it down. Seriously, this strategy changed my life. I wish someone had thought of it when I was only four.

As an adult I chopped all my hair off, which also changed my life for the better. At age four it would grow back very quickly if it didn't work out, I'd think.
posted by lampoil at 11:10 AM on November 6, 2007

Letting my daughter brush her own hair helps a lot, then I just "touch it up."

Also, don't start at the scalp and brush all the way down. That just collects all the small knots into a big knot by the time you get to the end. Instead, grab it like you are going to put it in a ponytail (to take the pressure off the scalp) , and start brushing at the bottom using short strokes and work your way up.

But nothing has helped more than cutting it into a cute, short bob.
posted by jrossi4r at 11:11 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Taking away bulk might help a lot. "Thinning" in the traditional sense means using thinning shears. The shears take away a lot of bulk, but for some people the hair gets even bushier and less manageable because the hair has been randomly chopped at different lengths, while the top layer stays long. There's another hair-cutting technique that involves snipping away small sections of hair underneath the top layer. My stylist calls it texturizing, but it ends up helping my thick hair lie nice and flat.

Satin pillowcases are supposed to prevent "bed head" because they're slippery. They're inexpensive, washable, and come in pretty colors -- worth a try. I don't know anything about this web merchant, but the site shows a number of combs, pillowcases, and other items for fragile, hard-to comb hair.
posted by wryly at 11:12 AM on November 6, 2007

i also suggest using a comb and starting and the ends of her hair rather than the top (adults should know this, but well....). comb it out and then use a natural bristle brush to smooth it down if necessary.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:14 AM on November 6, 2007

There's a technique to brushing long, thick hair.

First, use a wide-toothed comb instead of a brush. If I'm dealing with an unruly head of hair and only a brush to use, I skip the brush and finger-comb instead. It really cuts down on the amount of hair that gets yanked and pulled.

Second, isolate the knots from the head. Take a bunch of hair like you're making a small ponytail and twist it at the scalp. Hold the hair at the twist and then comb out the tangles from the bottom. Combing from the bottom is much easier and with the twist she won't feel that irritating pinch when a single hair gets pulled.

Comb it out in sections; I usually do four main sections, then comb each side of the head, then the whole thing. Use the twists as much as possible, and when you're ready to do the whole head remember to go super slow (or let her do some of it herself; by that time, the major stuff is out and it should be fairly easy for her to do).

You might try switching from a detangling shampoo to one for dry hair. As I recall, the Johnson's brands of shampoos tended to strip hair like mad.
posted by stefanie at 11:14 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Good girls get tasty breakfast goodies.

works with cats (sometimes) may not work at all with humans

why noy try a shorter, different hairstyle instead?
posted by matteo at 11:18 AM on November 6, 2007

Stefanie beat me to it. I hated having my hair brushed because it HURT. Sections, grasp at the top of the ponytail, comb from bottom. Work up as each little bit is tangle free.
posted by peep at 11:19 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

No More Tangles. Please, on behalf of all my life's trauma and those mean threats of cutting my hair off my stepdad used to make. Buy a bottle of No More Tangles, it works better than shampoo and conditioner ever did, and use a soft-bristle brush, since it won't pull too hard and won't get caught up in the hair. Manage bad knots by hand.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:21 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all this help! I'll let you know what ends up working.
posted by cashman at 11:21 AM on November 6, 2007

THIS STUFF. My eyes are gonna water until you get some.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:22 AM on November 6, 2007

Yep. Please get some No More Tangles. Also, I think she should brush/comb her hair as soon as she's old enough to do it effectively. It always hurts less when you're doing your own detangling. Four might be too young, but I remember doing it by the age of five. And parental threats of "Comb your hair or I'll do it for you!" taught me pretty well.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:31 AM on November 6, 2007

I will just also chime in recommending the No More Tangles product. We have used it with our daughter and it works great.

I will also second schroedinger's comment above. My 5 year old girl used to hate having us brush or style her hair in any way. It would always be tangled and get in her eyes. One day I sat down with her and told her that she had to a) brush her hair every day AND b) have it styled (with a clip, ponytail, something so it kept out of her eyes) every day or else she would have to cut her hair. This worked. She really wanted her long hair, and so she realizes that keeping it nice is part of the bargain.
posted by bove at 11:36 AM on November 6, 2007

We started using a little conditioner (Humectress, I think) in the shower with our girls, and combing it through while still wet. It really made a difference, even after gentle towel-drying.
posted by jquinby at 11:38 AM on November 6, 2007

Our little girl (4 as well) had the same problem up until three weeks ago, when we cut her hair to just above her shoulders. Before the haircut, even with de-tangling spray, we had tears every morning.
posted by hamfisted at 12:09 PM on November 6, 2007

I had really thick curly hair when I was that age, and I remember fighting with my mom and crying every time she brushed it. My dad could work magic, though. His secret: He would take a soft-bristled brush and gently run it over the outside of my hair, like you might run your flat palm over a cat that you're betting. Very, very slowly with long strokes he would work his way all the way around my hair, just getting the outermost layer brushed before he would apply any pressure to get to the next layer. It easily took 20 or 30 minutes to get through it all.

Now, I don't brush my hair at all. I haven't owned a brush in years. I wash my hair every morning, and detangle it with my fingers while it has conditioner in it, then rinse the conditioner out. When I won't shower in the morning, I may untie/work out any bad knots, but I would never brush it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:18 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: I was the same when I was younger. No way was Mom getting anywhere near my hair. However, I would always sit still when it was Dad, Grandpop, or Uncle Bob with the brush. Whether it was the rarity of having someone besides Mom, or perhaps men just brush more gently because they don't really know what they're doing, I don't know. But it worked like a charm.
posted by kidsleepy at 12:28 PM on November 6, 2007

The girl I babysit will only use this "Ouchless" brush. It worked so well I bought one for myself!
posted by radioamy at 12:41 PM on November 6, 2007

Using a satin pillowcase helps prevent tangles in the night as well.
posted by idiotfactory at 12:50 PM on November 6, 2007

Wide tooth comb or pick plus detangler, less frequent washings with conditioner, and combing/picking out from the ends up, holding the hair above the combing section so it doesn't pull.

I have big old Hermione hair and I don't use a brush except when I'm about to wash (2x/week). I only use a pick (easier on my tennis elbow than a comb) at the ends and in the back underneath where it snarls up in between washings, and I use leave-in conditioner to make my curls curly rather than just big and crazy.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:01 PM on November 6, 2007

My daughter hates, hates, hates having anything done with her hair. Here's how I help her. We use detangler, both on her hair and on the brush (I've not tried a wide comb yet).

Then I brush from the ends out all around then work further up and keep going until the tangles are gone.

While this is going on, I slowly count to 20 and have her "help me count." This is the thing that works best as it lets her see the end and makes her feel like she has some control over it.
posted by plinth at 1:23 PM on November 6, 2007

Spritz her hair with water to dampen it a bit before they try to style it. Hair is much more pliable when it is wet because the chemical bonds are not as strong due to the water. The moistness will reduce the pulling and allow the strands to move more smoothly against each other. In my experience, spritzing the scalp with water also seems to reduce the pain. Be careful though. Wet hair is fragile so don't brush it or use too fine a comb.

The reason No More Tears works is not because of anything unusual in the product; it's the water in it. All the product does is encourage you to constantly re-wet/moisten the hair as you detangle it. There's probably something else in it to promote slipperyness but the primary ingredient is water.

A spray bottle with water is just as effective. If they want to condition at the same time, Kemi makes an excellent leave in conditioner called Pro-cidic Rinse. It's super concentrated; they only need a small amount in the bottle. The rinse will help close the hair cuticle which in turn will help with the detangling.

Maybe four is a bit young, but they could work on having her sleep in a silk/satin cap or kerchief to reduce the tangling while she's sleeping. Second the satin/silk pillowcases.
posted by elle.jeezy at 3:37 PM on November 6, 2007

I meant No More Tangles.
posted by elle.jeezy at 3:42 PM on November 6, 2007

The reason No More Tears works is not because of anything unusual in the product; it's the water in it.

Non-answer garbage. Read the bottle. No More Tangles contains detergents, silicone derivatives and other trace chemicals that make the shafts slippery but not heavy. Other spray on conditioners are worth a try, too, but I don't use them because they make my hair heavy and tacky. The thought of brushing my hair wet is insane. The shafts are stretchy, then. They pull tight and snap. Split ends.

Plus, the totemic power of "No. More. Tangles." works magic on 4 year olds. the DIY version that also works pretty well is one part fabric softener to 4 parts water.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:56 PM on November 6, 2007

Most of the ingredients in No More Tangles are used routinely in many hair care products, thus the use of 'nothing unusual in the product'. The primary ingredient in N.M.T. is water.
posted by elle.jeezy at 4:07 PM on November 6, 2007

Infusium 23 leave in conditioner will also work as a detangler, though it's marketed towards adults. You might have to be more cautious about getting in her eyes, but I've found it works better/dries hair out less. You can buy it in a big bottle and use a spray bottle too. (A good brush, I like denman, can make a difference too.)
posted by ejaned8 at 4:57 PM on November 6, 2007

Most of the ingredients in No More Tangles are used routinely in many hair care products, thus the use of 'nothing unusual in the product'. The primary ingredient in N.M.T. is water.

That does not mean that the other ingredients in NMT are not significant. As a life-long sufferer of tangled hair I can vouch for the HUGE difference in using water versus using a detangling product. I'm no product-whore but the stuff definitely works better than water. That's not to say it doesn't work all that much better than a good conditioner since the ingredients are similar but just because the ingredients of conditioner are similar to leave-in detanglers does not mean that detanglers are a hoax. It's just a different application/use method. And both are different than using water alone.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:03 PM on November 6, 2007

The women who wrote Curly Girl recommend finger combing on dry hair--tangles should only be brushed out when wet.
posted by brujita at 9:37 PM on November 6, 2007

I have long, curly, tangly hair. Childhood was a bit of a nightmare, because I also have a bit of a sensitive scalp.

As an adult, I have learnt the following things:
- I have Really Dry hair. Finding a suitable shampoo is really really hard - most 'conditioning' shampoos strip my hair completely, leaving it literally squeaky clean - this is a Bad Thing. Hair shouldn't squeak. Shop around until you find a shampoo that doesn't do this.
- Washing my hair with shampoo once a week is plenty; if I wasn't using styling product every day, once every two weeks would be sufficient
- wash with shampoo only as low as the ears. Hair below that doesn't need it
- Condition after every shampoo, thoroughly.
- loosely plait the hair at night, so it doesn't tangle overnight
- in the morning, fingercomb gently, then use a detangling comb, before shower - rinse with water
- do NOT rub when towel-drying, or wring the hair - gently squeeze the hair, and pat it with the towel. Wrap gently with the towel and leave it to dry a little, if necessary
- fingercomb through a leave-in conditioner, then comb gently with a wide-toothed comb - it should slide through the hair easily.

Whenever using a comb on the hair, work from the bottom up, going in intervals of 1-2 inches, depending on the level of tangle.

It seems like a lot of effort - but after getting my hair into sufficient condition (mostly by laying off the damn shampoo, and being a bit gentler handling my hair when wet), it takes me maybe 5mins in the morning to have tangle-free hair.
posted by ysabet at 10:51 PM on November 6, 2007

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