Tame those tangled tresses.

A day of outdoor play can often lead to a night of dreaded detangling, especially for curly kids.

But think twice the next time you consider putting it off yet another day, just to avoid a tantrum from your tyke. Stylists say using the right products, tools and tactics can painlessly transform tangled tresses into smooth, soft curls.

“Kids get knotty hair because of their play habits, so it’s important to comb and detangle their hair frequently,” says Cozy Friedman, owner of New York's Cozy's Cuts for Kids. "It’s really something you have to keep up with."

Experts suggest tackling tangles as soon as you spot them instead of waiting until your child is in the tub.

“I encourage parents to use a detangler on dry hair to keep it tangle-free between washings,” says Eleanor Keare, owner of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Circle of Friends, which produces a hair-care line for kids. “If you use a drugstore brand on dry hair it can get greasy or oily, and weigh down the curls. But a good quality detangler, like those you find in a salon, will work very effectively on dry hair.”

In her salon, Friedman is constantly barraged with questions about tangles. In an effort to simplify the process for parents, she just introduced the "It Takes Two to Detangle Kit", which includes an instruction guide, Lucky Lime Pre-detangling Treatment, Fruity Delight Detangler & Leave-In Conditioner, a rubber ducky (for a fun distraction in the tub), and a wide-tooth comb with rounded edges and a convenient hook handle.

“It’s important to use a wide-tooth comb because it works through the hair more easily with less damage,” Friedman says. Even before you pick up that comb, Keare suggests gently seizing those snarled locks while you shampoo.

“Keep in mind, pouring shampoo directly on the child’s scalp and working up a lather creates a lot of unnecessary tangles," Keare says. "Instead, parents should put the shampoo in their hands first, work it into a lather and then apply it to the child’s scalp and hair, using their fingers like a comb to work it through. If the child has the patience to use a rinse-out conditioner, that’s helpful. If not, or if you don’t have the time for that extra step in the bathtub, use a leave-in conditioner.”

And for the knottiest nests, Margo Bower of The Hair’s Lair in Austin, Texas, suggests a creamy conditioner—and plenty of it.

“We wet the hair, take a lot of conditioner and work it through with the fingers — starting at the temples and going back, and then moving to the nape of the neck and working out. Then we run our hands across the top of the scalp and work the fingers through,” says Bower, who suggests conditioners and detangler sprays from Circle of Friends and the Fuzzy Duck product lines for kids.

“If you allow the conditioner to sit on the hair for several minutes, you have better luck," Bower says. " For severe tangles, work on it over a couple of hours. Don’t try to tackle it all at once.”

Stylists say the most important tactic in damage-free detangling is to start at the bottom, combing one inch of hair at a time and working your way up.

“Comb with one hand and use the other to hold the hair so you’re not tugging on the scalp,” Friedman says. “You don’t want to start at the top of the head and rip through the hair.”

But Friedman suggests taking a proactive approach to prevent snarls before they can start.

“Kids are running and tumbling, so if you have an active child, put their hair up before they go out to play," she says. "And before they go to sleep, put a very loose braid or ponytail in their hair."

If they already have a matted mane, use creative ways to encourage your child to sit still through the rigorous routine.

“It’s all about distraction,” Friedman explains. “Let them watch a video or read a book while you're combing. You don’t want to make a big deal about it. And when they’re in the tub, give them toys to play with, or a cup so they can pour out water. That way they’re not focusing on the whole detangling process.”

Bower shares a tactic that works for her in the salon: “I tell the child, ‘Now I’m going to get some of these tangles out and wash them down the drain. If we can do that, then we don’t have to comb out so many of them when you’re in the chair.’ That helps to give them a positive outlook when they sit in the chair, and they’re pretty receptive.”

Children are also less likely to protest if you make them part of the process.

“You can do that by letting them choose the detangler they want,” Keare says. “If you have a few with different fragrances, you can say, 'Oh, do you want to try the raspberry detangler today or the pineapple detangler?' Then children will feel like they’re involved and it was their choice instead of their parent’s demand.”

No matter what strategy you use, experts say patience is key. “And if all else fails, go to your stylist!” Bower says with a chuckle.


Tangle Tamers

Cricket Big Time Comb
Blended Cutie Tug Me Knot Conditioner
Circle of Friends Abedi's Safari Detangler
Circle of Friends Dragon Dance Conditioner
Curlisto Kids Detangle Rinse
Curlisto Kids Leave-in Conditioner
Fairy Tales Detangling Conditioner
Fuzzy Duck Detangler & Refresher Spray
Fuzzy Duck Kids' Conditioner
Little Sprout Children's Miracle Detangler
Little Sprout Children's Deep Conditioner
So Cozy Fruity Delight Detangler
So Cozy Lucky Lime Pre-Detangling Treatment
So Cozy Sweet Strawberry Conditioner
Johnson's No More Tangles Spray-on Detangler
Johnson's Buddies No More Tangles Easy-Comb Conditioner
L'Oreal Kids Tangle Tamer
Biosilk No Tangles Tangle Buster
Suave Awesome Apple Detangling Spray
Huggie's Detangler
Rainbow Spray Detangler for Kids
California Baby Hair Detangler Spray