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How do you care for and style your transracially-adopted child's hair?

Our Reader Panel Responds

African-American Hair

Our son, Matthew, is almost two and is African-American. We had no idea how to deal with a black child's hair or if it would be different from ours at all. I started by asking a lot of my black friends and co-workers and even hairdressers for advice. Everyone was really supportive and gave us different suggestions ranging from haircuts to products. First of all, I was told that a black child's hair will be dry, so that it was better to wash it every couple of days rather than every day. I also tried different leave-in conditioners that help give it shine and make it easier to comb through after bathing. Some of my friends said that we should be sure to take him to a black barber for his haircuts, but I have found that most hairdressers do know how to cut his hair- and no matter who does it, Matthew still hates it and screams the whole time. Hope he grows out of that.
Rachel, Louisiana

Our younger daughter is biracial- Caucasian and African American. Her hair is not coarse, but is very curly. When we adopted through the foster care system we were given a 'book' of information about hair/skin/and diet needs of children from different ethnic groups. The section on hair was not very comprehensive and actually recommended using petroleum jelly! We tried it, and it was a nightmare.

I simply asked an African-American woman in our new neighborhood what she uses on her hair and where she gets it. She was kind enough to show me exactly what she uses on her daughter's hair and gave me some really good advice on product and styling techniques.

My advice to new parents of a biracial child or a child of a different racial background: be willing to ask questions. Sure it may seem embarrassing that you're not sure how to care for your child's hair or skin, but by asking questions of knowledgeable people, you're showing how important it is to you to get it right.
Patricia, Massachusetts

My daughter is 5-years-old & is ¼ African-American, ¾ Caucasian, with very kinky, curly hair. The two hair care books I would definitely recommend for parents of children with African ancestry are: Kids Talk Hair, by P. Ferrell and It's All Good Hair, by Michelle N-K Collison. I believe in keeping the hair as natural as possible, so two websites I've visited are and I've also visited message boards for parents of transracially adopted children, or parents of biracial or African-American children and have gotten lots of good tips.

One of the most important things I would want to stress to other parents is that every child's hair is different, so you will probably have to try lots of different products. I myself prefer natural moisturizers like jojoba oil & shea butter, which I mix with fragrance oils.

Parents also need to remember not to overwash or overdry their child's hair. If you are Caucasian you are used to trying to remove the oils from your hair, but African-American hair needs oil/moisture to be put into it. Washing once a week at the most, or once every two weeks is fine. After washing & deep moisturizing, the hair can be combed out in sections with a seamless wide-tooth comb. Start at the ends of the hair and work your way up as you remove the tangles. Keeping the hair in braids (fold the ends over to protect them & use silicone "won't break hair" bands instead of rubber bands) will protect it against damage. Sleeping on a silk or satin pillowcase will help, as other materials are rougher on the hair and rob it of moisture.
Lisa, Washington

If your black or multiracial child has very curly hair and you're at your wits end, try a quality ceramic flat iron. I have the Conair Professional Instant Heat Straightener with Ultra-Hot Ceramic 2" Plates, Model CS19CS. The 1" iron that I tried didn't work well, but this one glides hair.
An AF Reader

I wanted to suggest two useful books for adoptive parents who may be unfamiliar with African and/or curly hair: Curly Girl, by Lorraine Massey with Deborah Chiel and Curl Talk, by Ouidad. Both are very good, although I prefer Curly Girl since it emphasizes the use of natural products available from any health food store or local grocery. It also contains chapters specifically devoted to styles for kids with curly and African American hair.

Also, I hope the Annie Kassof isn't using that fine-toothed comb in the photo for anything other than parting her child's hair. Very wide-toothed combs are essential for use with curly hair.
Valerie Phillips, via e-mail

Annie Kassof replies:
"I don’t really use that fine-toothed comb for my daughter’s hair. That photograph was staged in great haste in order to meet a deadline, and, at the time, we were unable to locate the wide-toothed comb that I usually use."

Hispanic Hair

Our daughter is 9 years old. She is Mexican, African-American and Caucasian. She has extremely curly, very long hair. During the winter months I wash her hair weekly, using leave-in conditioner/detangler and following up with anther light leave in conditioner. Many products targeted toward African American children are wonderful. Just make sure they have little or no alcohol content or they can make a dry scalp worse. I generally wash her hair twice weekly in the summer, and more if needed due to increased activities. Also, I tend to braid her hair during the warmer months. The braid lasts about a week if it's covered by a scarf at night, and she loves the ability to jump out of bed and go. I also "relax " her hair with a kiddie relaxer once every 6-9 months or so. It makes her hair more manageable and she doesn't get so frustrated with it when she attempts to provide some of her own hair care.
Lyn, Virginia

Our daughter Grace is from Guatemala. She had a VERY full head of hair when we met her at 7 months old, and has even thicker hair now that she is 11 mos. old! I have tried every hair care product to keep her hair "in place". Without anything in it, it looks pretty wild! I have come to rely on my spray bottle filled with water- a few spritzes each morning help to brush it out. Then I rub some hair gel in my hands and run them through her hair. I brush it into place, put her hair ribbon in and it stays together almost all day! It also helps to maintain some of the natural curl that she has! Hope this can help some other parents out there!
Terrill, Ohio

Asian Hair

My 8-year-old daughter who was adopted from India has very thick, curly hair. We wash it once a week and use a lot of conditioner so that we are able to comb through it. On a daily basis, we try to keep the style very simple with no fuss, as combing/brushing always hurts. A manageable length helps as well.
Maryellen, Pennsylvania

My Chinese daughter, aged 34 months, has very fine, straight, silky shoulder-length hair. She loves hair clips and things in her hair, but it is so fine and silky they usually don't stay in. I am currently giving her an 'onion' ponytail on the top of her head and she loves it. Another style that works is to part her hair in the middle, gather up the hair on each side to about the back of her ears, twist the hair and bring it up to the top of her head where it's held with clips. She then has two twists of hair partly hanging down over her ears but with the ends clipped on the top of her head. I also sometimes do ponytails on either side of her head for special occasions but this style doesn't last very long.
Diane, Australia

My daughter, Xiu Mei Golden, is 3 yrs old and is from Yangzhou in the Jiangsu Province. When I was traveling in China with her, people would notice her 2 cowlicks! They all said it was a sign of a very original and independent child. They were SO RIGHT. Her hair is so fine and silky. She has no bangs as I have let her hair grow all the same length. Until it's a little bit longer I have some problems keeping it looking nice because it slips out of the barrettes and falls in her face. Otherwise her hair is very beautiful.

I have a couple solutions to her hair dilemmas. I put a mousse by Aveda (made of natural plant extracts). That keeps it where I want it! Then after I finish the hairstyle I have chosen, I spray it with Aveda hair spray. I love doing lots of different styles on her hair and love that I have found a method to keep them in place.
Kathy, Idaho

I have three Asian daughters. Although their hair is fairly easy to care for, it is very fine and difficult to do much with. I have found that barrettes and such just do not stay in. Their hair is now getting long enough to start braiding and they seem to like it. My middle daughter loves ponytails and would have 10 of them on her head at the same time if we could do it. She has had up to 6, I think, and it looked really cute. My eldest daughter, with long straight hair, prefers to wear it down.
Paula, Wisconsin

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