Caring for natural afro-textured hair doesn’t need to be an intimidating process for parents in transracial adoptions. Below are some tips and resources to help you learn how to best support your child, from hair care basics to ensuring they encounter positive images of natural Black hairstyles.
There is so much to learn when you become an adoptive parent, but transracial adoptions come with their own unique challenges and considerations. Parents in transracial adoptions undergo a continual process of learning about and embracing a culture different from their own. If your child has natural or afro-textured hair and you do not have afro-textured hair, one of the many things you’ll need to learn is how to care for and talk about their hair in a supportive, nurturing way.
Your child’s hair is a part of their identity, and by helping them love, care for and celebrate their natural hair, you are showing them that you value and love this part of their heritage and culture. We spoke with Robin Collymore-Henry, founder of Natural and Professional and a natural hair enthusiast, about how to care for afro-textured hair, embrace natural hair in all its beauty, and find resources and support to aid in the learning process.
Affirm That Your Child’s Natural Afro-Textured Hair Is Beautiful
Feeling good about your hair is a key component of feeling good about yourself. For children with afro-textured hair, their hair is also connected to feelings about their personal identity and heritage.
“The reality is that Black hair can be very misunderstood,” Collymore-Henry says. “Asking for help or guidance is the first step toward building a positive relationship with your child so that they can have a positive relationship with their own hair, because everybody has hair and it’s the first thing we all notice about each other.”
Collymore-Henry encourages parents to not be afraid of the learning process. Like everyone, you will make mistakes along the way. Approach learning about your child’s hair care with enthusiasm and a willingness to admit what you don’t know from the start. “The goal is to learn what you need to know to make sure your child is the priority and their comfort, ego, image and self-awareness is always leaning positive,” she says.
Learn About Discrimination Against Natural Black Hairstyles
People with afro-textured hair may experience “hair discrimination” at school, work and in public. This term refers to people being discriminated against due to their natural hair texture and wearing hairstyles like braids, locs, twists and knots.
“Hairstyles are personal, but the reality is the only people who are criticized for their hairstyles appear to be those who are of African descent,” Collymore-Henry says. “People who have afro-textured hair are often criticized, and they are denied opportunities to attend schools, to work in certain workplaces and to be treated with respect.”
The CROWN Act, introduced by former state Senator Holly J. Mitchell of California, seeks to make this kind of discrimination illegal in public schools and the workplace. As the parent of a child with afro-textured hair, you can help fight stigma and discrimination by promoting positive language, attitudes and images of natural Black hair — not only with your child but also with your extended family, friends and other people in your child’s life.
Use Appropriate, Positive Language When Talking About Your Child’s Hair
How you talk about your child’s hair impacts them. You want your child to know that their afro-textured hair is beautiful, unique and versatile, so choose language that reinforces this image. Positive words to use include: natural, tightly curled, curly, coily, thick, soft, full and textured.
Avoid words like tough, rough, wild, wiry, difficult, different, bad, unruly and unmanageable. “These words imply something negative, especially to a young person,” Collymore-Henry says. “And I think that young girls have it a bit harder than boys.” This kind of language creates the impression that your child’s hair is a problem or a challenge rather than a vibrant and positive part of their identity.
Language is always evolving, so do your best to keep up with the language and terminology that is being used by advocates and experts in caring for afro-textured hair.
Make Sure Your Child Sees a Variety of Natural Black Hairstyles
Ensuring your child regularly sees positive images of natural Black hair is every bit as important as the language you use and attitudes you cultivate around hair care. You can display art or photos of Black people with natural hairstyles in your child’s room and around your home. Seek out TV shows and movies that star Black characters with natural hair. Collymore-Henry recommends Matthew A. Cherry’s Oscar-winning 2019 film, Hair Love, as well as reading books about Black hair with your child. (At The Cradle, we recommend Tapestry books for some excellent options about transracial adoption and afro-textured hair.)
Collymore-Henry also suggests researching and attending Black cultural events and festivals in your area. This provides opportunities for your child to engage with the Black community and culture while seeing all the wonderful possibilities for afro-textured hair.
Make Hair Care a Fun Experience
Develop routines that make your child look forward to having their hair done, but make sure they see hair care as a normal, natural process. Collymore-Henry suggests treating hair care the same for everyone in the household. “Normalize hair care, because everybody has to take care of their hair,” she says. “Make sure that if you brush their hair, everybody’s brushing their hair — it’s not a big deal.”
To make it more enjoyable, you can combine hair care time with your child’s favorite TV show, a movie or an activity such as playing “spa.” Ask your child for input on their hairstyle and accessories. They’ll have more fun if they can express themselves and participate in the process.
Many parents start a regular maintenance practice when their children are babies to get them used to having their hair managed. You can create a routine where you style your child’s hair daily or several times a week. As your child grows, they’ll become used to having their hair styled.
Find a Hair Stylist Who Knows How to Work With Afro-Textured Hair
One of the best ways to ensure you and your child have the support you need is to seek out a stylist who has experience working with afro-textured hair.
“There are very few professionals who actually know how to handle natural hair,” Collymore-Henry says. “It sounds strange, but there are so many stylists who want to straighten the hair first and then cut it. That doesn’t work because most people who have curly hair have different types of curls, and as soon as you try to straighten the hair, that implies that the natural texture is not good enough.”
It’s a good idea to interview a stylist ahead of time to determine if they can meet your needs. They’ll need to know how to maintain healthy, natural Black hair because it can be damaged if not taken care of properly. Additionally, stylists with experience caring for afro-textured hair will be able to point you toward useful resources and learning materials. “They will tell you what products to use, what tools to get and how often hair requires maintenance, whether it’s every three days or every week,” Collymore-Henry says.
Many parents wait several years before giving children their first full haircuts, but may need to learn how to trim their hair to keep it healthy and eliminate split ends. It’s generally easier to style longer afro-textured hair, so sticking with trims will give you more options when you work with your child’s hair. If you aren’t comfortable with basic trims while your child’s hair is growing out, seek out a stylist who can do this for you or provide resources so you can learn.
Shampoo and Condition Hair Weekly
Different types of hair require different approaches to cleaning. Oil from the scalp travels down the hair shaft more quickly on straight and wavy hair types, so it typically needs to be washed every day or every few days. Scalp oils travel down curled and tightly curled hair more slowly, and because those types of hair tend to be drier and more porous, they benefit from these oils. That’s why stylists recommend washing and conditioning afro-textured hair only once a week rather than daily. (Though regular maintenance such as detangling should happen several times a week.)
Shampoos formulated for natural Black hair feature milder cleansers and conditioning agents to avoid stripping the hair of essential oils and ensure it stays hydrated. You also need to use conditioner after every shampoo to soften, replenish moisture, add shine and make hair easier to style on a regular basis. As with shampoo, find a conditioner designed for afro-textured hair. These richer formulas can be applied generously and combed through with a wide tooth comb.
Common Options for Styling Afro-Textured Hair
Below are some common hairstyles for natural Black hair, with options for every skill level. You can accent many of these styles with beads, bows and other accessories.
- Ponytails and braids: Ponytails are easy to style, though their ends can easily become tangled. Braids provide more protection and keep hair neater. Styles with many ponytails or braids are ideal for younger children with shorter hair.
- Cornrows (or French braids): This style involves braiding close to the scalp and usually features neat braided rows. It’s a more advanced style that requires practice.
- (Two-Strand) Twists: Twists are like braids, but they are achieved by twisting two strands of hair together rather than three.
- Flat twists: This style is similar to cornrows but uses twists instead of braids.
- Locs: Locs are achieved by hand-rolling the hair to create rope-like strands. Locs are semi-permanent, and they must be cut or carefully combed out if you want to remove them.
- Bantu Knots: To create this style, you part the hair into multiple sections, then twist and wrap each one to make a spiral knot. This works best with longer hair, so it’s more suited for older children.
- Afro Puffs: Puffs are a quick and easy style for kids of all ages. They simply require parting the hair into two or more symmetrical sections and then securing each with a hair tie that won’t damage their curly hair.
- Afro: An afro involves styling hair into a rounded shape, showcasing its natural texture. This hairstyle requires more maintenance since the hair can easily tangle.
Remember that caring for your child’s afro-textured hair is an ongoing journey. It’s a labor of love that requires patience and practice. Do your best and continue to educate yourself by engaging with resources in the Black community. In addition to seeking out events, stylists and resources in your area, Collymore-Henry recommends consulting Black Girl Curls and Cut It Kinky for educational resources and tutorials. She also points parents toward CurlMix for help finding shampoo, conditioner and other hair care products designed for afro-textured hair.
Looking for additional resources on caring for afro-textured hair?
- Learn more in the Adoption Learning Partners course, Braids, Curls, Twists and Twirls: A How-To for Natural Black Hair Care
- Read 23 Natural Hair Brands for Black Kids and Babies
- For those in the Chicagoland area, visit Styles 4 Kids for local training resources