Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Her body, her choice

Photo by renfield on Flickr
"A double minded man is unstable in all his ways." ~ James 1:8  AKJV

Despite my recent post on foolish consistency, I really like to know where my boundaries are.  When I am in the process of trying to determine exactly what is appropriate and what isn't, I wind up getting frustrated with my kids and myself.  Once I am clear on what boundaries I will enforce and why, there is much more peace.

My latest conundrum has involved body boundaries and pride in appearances.  One of my convictions is that my children should know that their bodies belong to them, and that if they tell someone "no", that must be respected.  The only exceptions involve safety issues.  For example, I am ruthless about carseat usage.  Whether they like it or not, they must be properly buckled up when we go somewhere.   Elena has started fighting it a little.  She screams and flails.  There is no shaming, roughness, punishment or anything like that, but there is also no negotiation.  If we are going somewhere, she is in her seat.

Ariana has always shown some tactile defensiveness.  She is extremely sensitive to anything touching her body, and even in winter will wear the least amount of clothing possible.  She winds up in a short-sleeve shirt and underwear as soon as we get home.  She also loathes to have her hair brushed.  Regardless of how gently it is done, she is reduced to tears nearly every time.  We've tried haircuts and spray conditioners, different kinds of brushes and combs, etc.  They help a little, but it is still an ordeal.  Now with something like brushing teeth, I feel confident in enforcing it.  But there is no health/safety issue with hair--just my pride at stake because I don't want to appear neglectful.

We've negotiated different things--brushing a certain amount of strokes, stopping for a break anytime she asks, her doing it, me doing it, and pretty much every other thing that I can think of.  I've explained my reasons for wanting it to be brushed, we've talked of ways to reduce tangles, let her choose special clips or barrettes...nothing really helps.

I feel icky about trying to manipulate her or force her.  Deep down, I think that it is her body and that she should be able to refuse.  I also remember going through similar issues with my mom over fingernails.  I cannot describe how absolutely horrible the sensation was on my fingertips for the first two or three days after cutting my nails, even when they weren't cut too short.  I get how ridiculously dramatic it sounds to use terms like violation, rage, or even hurt--I really do--but the feelings of helplessness and violation were real. 

So now I am trying to navigate just how important it is to conform to cultural standards of haircare versus my daughter's right to say no and control her own body.  I would love to wrap up this blog post with a nice little bow of resolution, but I haven't quite found it yet.  So far, we compromise in that we do minimal brushing at home and negotiate some for special occasions.  (Yes, I have explained several times that keeping it brushed regularly will help reduce knots and tangles, but in reality, it doesn't seem to make a huge difference, and she insists that she would rather have less brushing, period).  Anyone want to solve my dilemma?


Tia Quel said...

Continue using conditioners every time she washes. Keep her hair short to mid-length (I think that a shoulder-length bob would look great on her). Don't have her hair too layered so that she can have her hair braided before going to bed. I think that if she braids her hair that will help it not tangle in the night. And you probably should tell her that.

Sarah said...

Some cute, tiny dreadlocks? =)

granny2five said...

I agree that braids are a good solution to the night tangling. Only thing, the hair has to be relatively tangle free to braid. I would NOT do dreadlocks. They're horrible to try to get out. I made tiny braids with my granddaughters one time, and it only took one time to learn a lesson from it! You have to take them out individually and very carefully. Her tender head wouldn't bear it. Good luck with this. It's one problem that, thankfully, I never encountered.

P.S. - Glad she doesn't mind baths or changing her underwear.

Staci said...

I let my kids do as they wish with their hair, as long as they keep it clean and brushed. My 14 year old has almost shoulder length hair & people (usually older family members) are always telling him to cut it. I figure he takes really good care of it and that's something he can control at this age so I let it go.
I feel your pain (or rather her pain.) I was super tender headed as a child and cried everytime it was brushed. Thankfully as an adult it's not so bad anymore. Maybe it will be the same for her? You could try 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar with 1 cup of warm water. Use it during shower like a conditioner or put in a spray bottle and use just before & during brushing. If you don't like the smell you can add scents to it, maybe a little vanilla. I just started going no-poo and this definitely helps with the tangles.
Sorry for such a long post. <3 to your little ones.

My Feminine Mind said...

We have this issue too and I'm where you are. Some days I respect her boundaries, other days I coerce. I find it's easiest to comb right after a bath and then if I put it in braids right away, it doesn't really tangle and I don't have to comb or style it until the next bath (usually every other day). Or, if I put it up in a sort of bun, if it's tangled. Her hair looks styled (and so my pride among other mothers stays intact) but I don't have to comb it. But this will only work for so long. Eventually the tangles will have to come out.

Zephan said...

I have the same theory with my sons, their body, their choice. My almost 5 year old refuses a hair cut. Every now and then I intervene when it really is in the way of his eyes too much, but otherwise the choice is usually his. Sometimes I give him the option of haircut, or wearing it tied back, he usually chooses tied back.
I get a lot of people telling me I need to cut it, that I should just force him. Honestly, if someone forced me to cut my hair I would be annoyed!!

Maria said...

It's just hair, right? I allow TB to chose his hair length too. I used to dictate it when he was younger, but now that he has an opinion, I go with it, but our deal is that he has to brush it (or have us brush it) daily.

I wish I had an answer for you. Good luck.

P.S. I definitely agree with the ACV solution. I use it on my own hair with great success.

Hermana Linda said...

When I was young and didn't want my hair brushed, my mom kept it short until I was old enough to care for it.

This reminds me of one of my husband's nieces. I posted some old family pics in a private album on FB and she was complaining that her mother never combed her hair because in all the pictures her hair was a rat's nest. One of her older cousins posted that her mami couldn't comb it because she would cry too hard and her papi would tell her to leave her alone.

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so much for the understanding and ideas! I will definitely pick up some ACV this weekend. I think she would like that, especially if I let her pick a small bottle of essential oils to add to it. We have tried braids before, but they make her head sore after just a little while, even when they are pretty loose. She really doesn't want it shorter (and her daddy is backing her on that), but I think it would be much better than dealing with the brushing issue. Sarah, I am liking your idea of dreads more and more...

Young Mom said...

I had a very sensetive head when I was a child, and my mom would just brush it anyways until I was old enough to brush it myself, then I brushed it with a soft brush and it took forever! :)

My kids have the same problem, very fine hair, lots of it, and very prone to tangles. So far, keeping it at about shoulder length has helped. I found using conditioner in the bath helped the hair detangle, but then it seemed more likely to get knotted after it was dry.

So here is my solution:
I wash their hair with baby shampoo, I have them lay down in the tub to rinse the shampoo out and I try to run my fingers through it to loosen any knots. After baths, I rub some "Mane and Tail Conditioner" on my hands and work it through their wet hair with my fingers (this stuff is amazing! It's the only leave-in conditioner I've ever found that actually works, I think it's because it has lanolin in it, which lightly coats and protects their hair) Then I let their hair air dry. Since I started using the Mane and Tail, I never brush their hair, their hair looks and feels normal (not wet or greasy) and it doesn't get knotty enough to need any brushing. They bathe every few days, and that is enough to keep their hair untangled (now that I found out about "Mane and Tail") If I ever have to brush for some reason, I've found I have better success with a wide-tooth comb right after baths while their hair is still wet and conditioned.

Hope that helps you out! I'm still not sure why it works so well for my kids, but it's been a night and day difference! :)

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

First of all, I'm with you on being in the midst of navigating when to enforce (and I don't even like that word) my own rules about proper hygiene and body care and when to defer to my three-year-old's choices — like, that he wears pajamas everywhere, even under his outdoor clothes, which we allow, but he doesn't want us to brush his teeth, which we insist on because he's already had some dental issues. I always feel conflicted, either way.

About hair. I have a curly-haired kid, and I have wavy hair that used to be really long, so this is what I've learned about tangles. My son and I pretty much never use shampoo, and it's really helped. When we do, it's a very gentle organic cleanser — Giovanni 50:50 — and we use the matching conditioner always. If you can pick up the book Curly Girl (my library has it), it really helped me understand how to be very gentle to hair, despite the fact that at the time I had no idea I had wavy hair. (I'd always damaged it to the point that it was straight.)

So, anyway, I massage the conditioner into my scalp (or my son's — same rules apply) and use my fingertips to get out any oils and dirt. Then I smooth gobs of conditioner through the rest of my hair and let it sit there while I do the rest of my bathing. By the time I'm ready to rinse, there are NO TANGLES. The conditioner makes them fall out. I have a super-wide tooth comb that I then comb through. And that's the only time we ever comb or brush our hair — in the bath, when wet, when conditioned. No pain. On off-days, we just wet it down with some water mixed with lavender essential oil in a spray bottle, scrunch, and add a little spray gel as needed (for me).

I second the idea, too, of braids at night. They really help me when I have long hair. If she doesn't like braids, she might not like this suggestion, either, but another idea is to have her wear a satin sleep cap. (You can find them in hair departments at big-box stores or beauty supply stores.) They look doofy but work. I finally switched to sleeping on a satin pillowcase instead. Sounds unbelievably silly and/or decadent, but it really does help keep my hair from knotting while I sleep. (The rest of our sheets are flannel.)

Hope something there helps!

Kayris said...

My daughter's hair is very thick and incredibly curly. And in her case, the not combing it thing really does make it worse.

What has helped for me is:
--not overwashing. dry hair is so much harder to control. I shampoo her maybe once a week.
--rinse and condition with every single bath.
--invest in quality hair care products. none of that crappy Suave kids stuff, spend the money and get the good stuff.
--the bedtime braid-my daughter does not like a french braid that sits next to her scalp, but a long, low simple braid while her hair is still wet has done wonders for the amount of tangles in the morning.

In the morning, I undo the braid and wet her head down really well with detangler and let it sit for a couple of minutes before using a wide tooth comb and a paddle brush and applying product. Pantene has a really nice smootjing serum.

Michelle @ The Parent Vortex said...

We used to have problems with hairbrushing too, and when Bea protested I gave her the choice to keep her hair long or cut it short so it would be easier to brush. One day she chose the haircut and it's been SO much easier since.

Olivia said...

My daughter, almost 2 yrs old, is biracial (black/white) and her hair is very long, very curly and very fine. It tangles and turns into a rats' nest so easily. To get the tangles out we use a wide comb while the conditioner is in her hair. After the bath we put a moisturizing hair cream in and then I insist on putting it in a pony or pig tails.

She often resists when I am putting her hair up, but I do think it's more than just a vanity issue. Her hair needs to be combed regularly because she's a toddler, and stuff gets stuck in her hair. Putting it in a pony tail means there will be less tangling the next time she bathes. And on the few occasions I leave her hair down, she is constantly pushing it out of her eyes. So even though I hate to push it, I do.