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My Toddler Won't Brush His Hair

One mom seeks advice on how to get her little one to brush her hair.

By Claire Lerner

Q. Washing and brushing my 15-month-old daughter's hair has become a battle. She screams if a drop of water gets on her face, and she won't hold still to let me brush her hair. What can I do?

A. Your daughter may be either frightened by or very sensitive to the feeling of water splashing in her face and the tug of the comb through her hair. Children who have this kind of tactile (touch) sensitivity tend to react to a range of sensory experiences, finding certain clothes uncomfortable and itchy, or disliking seams on their socks and tags in their shirts.

For hair washing, you can use a handheld sprayer or support her as you lean her head back into the water -- like we do at the salon! There are also bath visors (sold at baby stores) to keep the water off your child's face. And you might introduce regular water play in to your daughter's routine so that she can associate bath time with fun, positive experiences.

As for hair brushing, try wide-tooth combs and lots of detangling solution to make combing a bit easier. To distract her, give her a favorite snack or an interesting toy to play with. You can also give her a brush she can hold onto or use to brush her own or a doll's hair, or she could run the brush through a stuffed animal's fake fur.

If all else fails, you can decide whether combing her tresses is an absolute necessity or if you can let grooming go for now. For children with fine, silky hair, it won't matter much, while others kids have coarse, thick locks that tangle easily. As your daughter gets bigger and can help out with this task -- feeling more in control of what happens to her body -- she will likely be less resistant.

Claire Lerner, LCSW, is a child development specialist at Zero to Three, a nationwide nonprofit organization that promotes the healthy development of babies and toddlers (zerotothree.org).

Originally published in American Baby magazine, October 2006.