Help her embrace her curls.
When Stacey Canfield looked at her hair in the mirror as a child, she felt like an ugly duckling.
“My mother, who is white, struggled with my hair until I was at the age where I could take over," recalls Canfield, founder of the Blended Beauty hair-care line for multiracial curlies. "There was never a time when she knew how to do my hair at all. It was really hard."
She has not forgotten the harrowing hardships of her biracial tresses.
"I created the company because I wanted to help other children avoid having to go through that ugly duckling stage," Canfield says.
As society is becoming increasingly multicultural, there is growing knowledge about what it means to be a biracial child. And there is growing awareness about the unique challenges if the child's skin color and hair texture are completely different than her mother's.
"It’s not necessarily that the parents don’t try," Canfield says. "It can just be so difficult.”
With a Japanese mother and black father, Titi and Miko Branch can empathize with the curl confusion surrounding multicultural manes.
“A lot of parents who come to us feel totally exhausted and hopeless because they haven’t found what they’re looking for,” says Titi Branch, who owns Miss Jessie's Salon in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Miss Jessie's hair-care products with her sister, Miko. “They want to learn how to handle the hair.”
The first step, Titi Branch says, is to acknowledge that your child’s hair is different.
“A lot of mommies with biracial kids might approach it like they approach their own straight hair," Titi Branch says. "But biracial hair is fragile and prone to dryness. It really needs moisture. You have to use specific products to add the moisture, which is different from what a parent with straight hair might be used to."
Curl experts say there are so many options today that you don’t have to resort to the drastic measures of the past.
“If you get through the struggle, your child will get through it,” says Canfield. “Once you have the right products and the hair is healthy and conditioned, it’s not as tough as it seems.”
One of the most common mistakes parents make when they don't understand how to control their child’s curls and kinks is to chop it off in frustration.
“A lot of young girls are living with really short hair -- probably the same hair that their brothers would have,” Stacey says. "So they lose their femininity.”
Kim Etheridge, who is biracial, recalls her white mother cutting her hair off when she was growing up.
"It was too hard for her to deal with," says Etheridge, the co-founder of Mixed Chicks, a hair-care line for multiracial curlies.
Other frustrated parents of biracial children may rely on a relaxer as a seemingly quick fix. But it can be a disaster, according to curl experts.
“Although relaxers may be necessary in different circumstances, chemicals are not the way to go,” Etheridge says. “When you put a relaxer in the hair it does more damage. I’ve seen so many cases where the hair breaks and falls out. It can really hurt the child emotionally because their hair is very damaged.”
If you must use a chemical treatment, research the right salon and don’t do it at home.
“Out of frustration and panic, parents end up turning their child’s hair into an experiment, going to different salons for a variety of chemical services,” says Titi Branch. “You have to be very careful. You don’t want to use multiple chemical services because your child’s hair may not recover from it. Often, when these mommies come into the salon, it almost becomes a training session.”
When Miko Branch is working with a biracial child in the salon, she often calls the mom over to get involved, showing her how to wash the hair, condition it and detangle it.
Parents need to learn about the unique texture of their child's hair, and what it needs.
“You have to use specific products to add the moisture, which is different from what a parent with straight hair might be used to," Titi Branch says.
Leave-in conditioners and deep conditioning treatments are a must, say curl experts.
“Some mommies make the mistake of shampooing and stop there," says Miko Branch, noting that Miss Jessie's new Super Sweetback Treatment is kid-friendly. "You have to use a conditioner.“
Never comb the curls or kinks when the hair is dry, and stay away from hair grease, adds Canfield.
“Most curls need hydration, which comes from water," Canfield says "Using a product that’s water-based is best. Grease actually blocks out the water that would be coming from the air, and it does not provide any hydration whatsoever. Natural oils do provide emollients and nutrients that can replace the grease.”
Once the child’s hair is conditioned and healthy, it will be easier to style and to see its true texture. When you’re just starting to work out the styling kinks, keep it simple.
“Right after the child gets out of the bath and you’ve conditioned the hair and applied a leave-in cream, you can put the hair in a few twists -- maybe six twists on each side of head,” Canfield says.
You can undo the twists in the morning, using your fingers to run through the hair, creating cute ringlets, Canfield says. You probably won’t need more product. Just be gentle so you don’t tug on the curls.
“It’s a learning process -- you start off doing the easy stuff,” Canfield says.
Managing the hair is only part of the challenge. It can be difficult managing the emotional twists and turns that come along with the process of working with your child's hair.
Miko Branch recalls wondering why her hair wasn’t long and flowing like her Japanese mother’s.
“I would try and express to her how I wanted my hair long and straight, so she would do things like braid it long and straight,” Miko Branch says. “Girls, especially, respond to straight hair. They look up to their moms and want to know why they’re so different.”
What’s a parent to do?
Always remind your child that her hair is beautiful in its natural, curly state.
“Parents have to prepare themselves mentally and put on a happy face so the child doesn’t realize their hair is a struggle,” Canfield says. “If a biracial child ever says, ‘I wish I wasn’t biracial. I wish I was white,’ a lot of the time that’s not what they mean. They just mean, ‘I wish I had nice hair that didn’t give you the struggle."
Etheridge agrees, and suggests using positive reinforcement with your child.
“You can tell them: ‘That’s the beauty, that no one is the same. You have your personal style and I have mine. You got the best of both worlds, you’re so fortunate!’” Etheridge explains. “It’s important to tell the child that they are loved and special. I think it takes away from focusing on their color and their hair.”
Top Dos and Don’ts
Do you know what to do and what not to do?
Don’t try to comb the hair when it’s dry or not moisturized.
Do wet the hair and drench it with conditioner to detangle.
Don’t use a brush or fine-tooth comb.
Do try a wide-tooth comb or a pick.
Don’t be so quick to turn to relaxers. Experts say if you’re not going to keep it up, don't do it at all.
Do use a leave-in conditioner and moisturize daily.
Don’t show your frustration. Many curlies feel guilty when they see their parents struggling with their hair.
Do talk to your children. Tell them they’re beautiful and they should be proud of their heritage.
Don’t panic and give up.
Do educate yourself, practice and keep a positive outlook!