Jenni Groft recalls the first time she found her 3-year-old daughter frantically combing her blond curls with a fine-toothed comb. Over the next few months, she often found the comb in her daughter's room.
"I realized that what Tessa was trying to do was straighten it," says the Phoenix mom. "It made me feel so sad."
Growing up in a family with five straight-haired siblings and a straight-haired mother, little Tessa longed for straight hair.
"I told her 'Honey, this isn't going to make your hair straight. You have beautiful curly hair, and that is the way it will always be. She burst into even more heart-rending tears and screamed 'No! No!' She would have none of it. Her heart was broken and she was still crying when I left the room. She's only three!"
The seeds of curly angst are sown early. They can come from the prevalent images of straight-haired princesses in fairy tales and from popular culture, where straight-haired celebrities abound. Curly kids may look with envy at their straight-haired friends. And they may react negatively to all the attention they get because of their curls -- even if that attention is positive.
"Normally, developmentally, there is a phase in which children feel self-conscious," says clinical psychologist Mary Lamia, host of Kid Talk with Dr. Mary on Radio Disney. "What they do with those feelings is find a target to account for them. Hair is a big target. Not being able to control one's hair is a metaphor for not being able to control one's feelings."
Experts say there are some steps parents can take to help promote a more positive attitude toward those curls and kinks that may prevent years - even decades - of frustration.
"No. 1, it starts with Mom," says curl stylist Lorraine Massey, author of "Curly Girl" and a partner in the Devachan salons in Soho. "I see a lot of moms with blow-fried hair. If she's in denial, she'll have a child in denial."
You have to know how to speak to your kids about their hair, says Ouidad, who has clients in their 30s who have been coming to her since they were children.
"I see mothers come in exasperated, throwing their hands up in the air and asking what to do with their child's hair," Ouidad says. "You see this gorgeous little child deflate in front of you."
For that reason, Ouidad often asks parents to go to the waiting room so she can work with the children alone.
"First and foremost, always tell your angel how beautiful her curly hair is," says Mahisha Dellinger, creator of the Curly Q line of products for kids.
It is a subject near and dear to Dellinger's heart since her own curly-haired daughter, who is biracial, went to a school where most of the other girls were Caucasian with straight hair.
"For those moms with straight hair, tell your daughter that you wish your hair was curly, even if that means you have to tell a white lie," Dellinger said. "Remember that moms have a major influence on their girl's self esteem."
Let them know their feelings are normal, Lamia says.
"When the issue comes up, I focus on the fact that it's not really about their hair," she says. "Everybody is self conscious about something. But most people hide what they feel self-conscious about."
Education can be the key to curl love. And the earlier the better.