Caring for the Hair of Your African American Child

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When you adopt a child transracially, there are many things that you worry about. For many adoptive parents, thinking about hair care can easily fall to the bottom of the priority list until it becomes clear that new skills are required.

Culturally, hair is an especially important reflection of an African American person. And for children, it’s a reflection of their parents.

Parents who adopt transracially, specifically white parents who adopt African American children, may not know the steps needed to take appropriate care of hair that is so different than their own. When you use appropriate hair care techniques for your children, you are also helping build your child’s self esteem.

Knowing how to instill self confidence and build self esteem in your children isn’t an easy task. When your child doesn’t look like you, those challenges may be multiplied. Acknowledge and celebrate their uniqueness, including their hair. Encourage your children to embrace the way they look.

Appearance is a powerful component of how we create our own individual identity, and regardless of whether or not it’s right to do so, others make assumptions about us based on how we present ourselves in the world.

No two people have the exact same hair. Just because your child is African American doesn’t mean that his or her hair texture and type will be the same as that of others.

That being said, there are major differences in caring for the hair of your African American child compared to Caucasian hair. Following are some tips that will help you care for your child’s hair.

The hair’s texture lends itself to becoming tangled more easily, and a simple act like combing can become painful if the hair is tangled. As most of us already know, this often leads to temper tantrums and power struggles. Here are some ways to help things go more smoothly:

  • When removing a previous style, carefully take out any rubber bands by cutting them with scissors, rather than pulling it out so that hair isn’t broken.
  • Wetting the hair will make the process easier. Keep a spray bottle of water nearby to re-wet the hair if it begins to dry while you are working.
  • Separate the hair into sections either with your fingers or a comb and only comb one section at a time. 
  • Start at the ends of the hair and work back toward the head. Hold hair with one hand and comb from hand to end moving hand up toward the head.
  • Use a wide tooth comb.
  • Be gentle; children may complain that this process can be painful.
  • Allow ample time. If your child has especially thick hair, combing can require additional time.
  • Repeat daily.

Due to their hair being prone to dryness and breaking, it needs to be washed less often than Caucasian hair so that it can retain moisture. 

  • Wash every week to two weeks, depending on child’s hair.
  • Shop for appropriate products. Choose a shampoo that has a pH level of 5-6.5. If you aren’t sure, ask for a recommendation from a stylist.
  • Have your child lean over the sink or bathtub and wet her hair thoroughly. Divide hair into sections so you can see the scalp and put shampoo there first.
  • Work shampoo out towards the ends of the hair, stretching the hair out rather than working in circles, which can create tangles. 
  • Rinse well.

Adding conditioner to your child’s hair after shampooing will replace moisture that the hair needs to remain healthy. Keep the following in mind:

  • Be flexible. Take seasonal changes into account when purchasing products. Different products may be needed at different times of the year. Your child’s hair may need something different during winter when the air is dryer or during the summer months when there is more humidity.
  • After rinsing the conditioner from the hair, remove all excess water by squeezing the hair gently with your hands.
  • Section the hair with your fingers and apply the conditioner working from the scalp to the ends. Use your fingers or a wide tooth comb to move the conditioner down, making sure that plenty of it makes it to the ends, which are the driest part of the hair and, therefore, most likely to become tangled or break.
  • Leave the conditioner in the hair for several minutes. If you have time, place a shower cap over the hair and allow your child to play during this time so he or she is not uncomfortable waiting.
  • Rinse well, making sure that all of the conditioner is removed from the hair.

Blow Drying
Choosing to blow dry your child’s hair rather than allowing it to air dry will smooth some of the natural curl and may make the hair easier to style.

  • Separate the hair into sections after it has been combed, but while it is still wet. For ease of drying, try twisting the individual sections and clipping them to your child’s head. Work with only one section at a time.
  • Dry the ends first and work your way up to the scalp. The ends of the hair will require less time to dry as they are already the driest part of the hair.
  • Use a blow drying with a comb nozzle attachment that will pull the hair through it or a natural bristled brush.
  • Pay special attention to the heat settings on your blow dryer; be careful not to use too high of a heat level that will make your child uncomfortable.
  • Using oil (like jojoba or coconut) applied to the scalp and hair when it is dry will help moisturize and can help smooth frizz and add shine.
  • Once the hair is dry it can be braided, twisted, put into a pony tail, or pulled back with clips, barrettes, or a rubber band with protective coating.

Hair Care Products
Shop for appropriate products for your child’s hair type. You can buy conditioners specifically for African American hair—some you rinse out, and others are designed to leave in. You don’t have to buy products from a salon—you can find them at drug stores, on the internet, at department stores, etc.

Learning Curve
If you are struggling with caring for your child’s hair, you may want to get help from a professional stylist to see how they recommend caring for your child’s hair.

As with any new skill, there is a learning curve. Allow yourself enough time to learn the process and get it right. Helping your child look well groomed can build self
esteem and instill confidence. Have fun and use this time to talk with your child and be together.

Making a parent-child ritual out of caring for your child’s hair can create special memories that you will both have as your child grows up and becomes able to care for him or herself.



  • Kids Talk Hair: An Instruction Book for Grown-Ups & Kids, by Pamela Ferrell
  • Kinki Kreations: A Parent’s Guide to Natural Black Hair Care for Kids, by Jena Renee Williams
  • Brown Babies, Pink Parents: A Practical Guide to Transracial Adoption, by Amy Ford
  • It’s All Good Hair: The Guide to Styling and Grooming Black Children’s Hair, by Michelle N-K Collison

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