Hair Health Web Exclusives : ABCs of Children's Hair Health - by Danielle Walker

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December 2, 2009

ABCs of Children's Hair Health

by Danielle Walker

Nurture those precious strands on their heads, but also teach kids that hair does not measure a human being's value.

In the African-American community, commonplace childhood anxieties about hair can easily evolve into more deeply rooted neuroses. Negative feedback from parents about their hair’s texture, length, look and style can drastically influence children’s perception of beauty and self-image well into adulthood.

Here, Real Health explores how you can help your children maintain both a healthy head of hair and a mind-set to match.

Help your child see what you see.
Children and adolescents are especially vulnerable to psychological issues that create hair insecurities, so parents should foster relationships with their kids that promote open communication and self-confidence. “Really sit down and ask them what they think is pretty,” says Sheryl Neverson, PhD, LCSW, and owner of the private practice Transitions Therapeutic Services in Washington, DC. “I would show them images of celebrities or role models who have hair like them—someone who rocks their hair style with confidence.”

Know what your child faces.
Today, hair concerns seem to weigh heavier than ever on children—and affect them at earlier ages. “Increasingly younger kids are getting extensions and hair weaves,” Neverson says. She recalls a fifth-grader who told the school counselor she hated her own hair because it was kinky. (The young girl’s parent didn’t allow her child to use relaxers.)

Such distorted perceptions of self, Neverson says, can cause some girls to act out sexually and to accept whatever form of attention they can get.  

Furthermore, young girls aren’t the only ones with hair insecurities. One sixth-grade boy diagnosed with alopecia, the medical term for hair loss, became almost bald. Later, his hair grew back—but in patches. The traumatic experience affected his behavior. “When the teachers tell him to take [his cap] off he gets angry,” Neverson says. “He even got into a couple of fights because people talked about his hair.”

Reflect on your own hair experiences.
Remember that most hair anxieties faced by children are universal. In fact, when parents recall their own hair stories and challenges, they can better empathize with their children’s issues and needs.

“In the sixth grade, I wanted my hair to be curly, so I got a Jheri curl,” Neverson recalls. Her relaxed shoulder-length hair became over-processed, however, leaving her with a “short Afro” as the result. “[Until the age of] 36, I never cut my hair short again,” Neverson says. “It took me that long to feel confident about cutting my hair.”

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