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How To Wash Hair, For Every Type Of Child

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I have three children, with three very different personalities. From the clothes they like, to the foods they eat (and refuse), to the ways they calm and express themselves, they are a very dissimilar bunch. Given the fact that two of them are twins, this did surprise me. I adore the individually unique little people that they are, but this has meant I have to be creative in my parenting strategies. Nothing has given me more chance to flex my parenting skills then the dreaded art of kid hair-washing.

I will be honest, my children probably do not get bathed as much as some. Considering most bath times end with a delightful drip-drip-drip through my kitchen ceiling from too much splashing, I am always unsure how much bathing the 110-year-old plaster roof can handle. But on the semi-regular schedule that I do bathe them, I have to be very creative with my methods to wash their hair. Here are some proven techniques that have worked in our household, after much trial-and-error. And tears. And wine. And screaming. From the kids, and from me.

The Sensitive Child

My most involved hair washing experience has always been with my sensitive child. A splash of water in their eyes is akin to straight boric acid, and he has made this clear since he could hold his head up and vocalize a noise. I remember tears and arching during sink baths at 3 months old when water touched his head. I have tried the gimmicks, from a visor to a specially shaped cup, to wash his hair. None of them work, so we started a routine of “looking up at the moon.” While he is looking up I rinse the soap suds ever so carefully back, also making sure not to deluge his ears which he tells me are not waterproof. If water gets into his eyes, I have to do “windshield wipers” which is basically him taking my hand and grinding my index finger into his eye sockets, then complaining that I was not gentle. Because of the drama involved in his hair washing, he wears a short crew cut and I hope for the best on the nights that I lose the battle.

The Child Who Copies Everything You Do

My youngest child has long, beautiful curls. She does not want to cut them, and I am happy with her decision because I adore them. When her hair is in cornrows or braids washing is easy and she can usually do it herself now by age 4, but when it is time for a “all over detangle,” as she calls it, it takes a bit of time. I have a padded kneeling board designed for gardening, I think, so that I can be next to the tub. Essential to this task is for her to have a Barbie, a comb, and copious amounts of cheap shampoo and conditioner. I buy bottles in the clearance bin specifically for the dolls. Never thought “doll shampoo” would be on my shopping list.

She will sit for the hour it takes for me to detangle her hair, as long as she has that doll to repeatedly wash and detangle her hair, too. She admonishes the doll for wiggling too much and praises her for sitting still and being a big girl. I hear the echo of my own voice in the way she talks to the doll. I cringe when she sounds too harsh, because I know she must have picked that up from me at some point. I love when she praises the doll for her beautiful hair and patience through the process, because I hope she picked that up from me, also. Once we are done, we are usually both tired, and wrap up in a blanket on the couch for some snuggles. She always asks for snuggles after hair-washing day.

My Sensory-Seeking Child

My middle child loves thrills, sensation, water, splashing (he is the cause of the kitchen drips), and laughter. He can and does swim for hours, pushing his body and working on his skills until his little body usually collapses from exhaustion on the couch 20 minutes before bedtime.

So while there is not fear of water like my eldest, or lengthy detangling process like his twin, washing his hair is a bit of a workout. Because his is also tight curls, he does not really manage it himself yet at age 4. He likes a lot of shampoo, and a vigorous scalp massage. As part of his adventurous lifestyle, there is also often sand and dirt on his scalp, so I give him a salon-worthy scrubbing. He likes to have a giant lather, so that we can make Santa beards, and will not really consider the task complete until bubbles are flowing down to his feet.

Once all of the debris is washed out, he likes a BUCKET of water dumped over his head multiple times. I need to get clean water from the faucet because there are so many suds in the tub. He is not happy unless he is sputtering under a waterfall of water. We also have an old ranch dressing squirt bottle, all rinsed out, that he likes to use to squirt the soap suds off of his face. I love the joy on his face as he peeks out from behind a wall of soapy water, smiling his big grin at me before he declares, “All clean!” and bounds out of the tub without a towel, leaving adorable little wet footprints across my house.

So Different, Yet All The Same

Despite the different techniques that I use for my kids, despite their different ages and different opinions about my hair-washing skills, one common thread runs through each experience… from their earliest babyhood days until now, as we roll through preschool and elementary years, there is nothing like the smell of a freshly washed baby head. Yes, they are still my babies when they snuggle up next to me smelling all delicious after bath time. I know we are years, or even months, away from the day when they will handle this task on their own. So I will savor those little Elsa-soap-scented locks while I can.