Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hair IS an adoption issue...

Hair is an adoption issue.
For white parents of black children (full or biracial), doing your child's hair is totally different from doing your own. It's something most white people never had an opportunity to learn about. It is essential to your children's sense of identity and self-esteem that they are given the opportunity to look like they are well-cared for and groomed; this is particularly true for transracial families, already subjected to unusual social scrutiny by others who aren't quite sure you are really a family. How your children look can shape the conclusions outsiders draw. Children notice others' assessments and often interpret them as evidence of their own inadequacy. Young children are very concrete. They need to feel beautiful and handsome to contribute to a sense of pride in who they are. If their hair is a source of frustration and unhappiness, not just for them but for you, they may begin to develop low self-esteem.
Questions to ask yourself: how hair-educated are you?
Remember, there are no absolute answers. The ideas we offer here are common but are not universally held within the African American

How often should you wash your child's hair?
Probably not daily; maybe only as often as once every week or two. Water is a drying agent. Most African Americans have to be very careful about keeping enough moisture and oil in their hair. Frequent washing may dry out the hair, preventing the natural oils to moisturize.

How often should you comb or brush and style your child's hair?
At least daily. Children may be tender-headed and may dislike this process, but if you d
on't do it consistently, their hair will begin to mat, making combing impossible. Very often, parents tell us that they feel bad because their children cry while having their hair combed, but many children cry at first when having their hair done, even when they have same-race parents. Nonetheless, they are still entitled to look and feel good about themselves. And with daily (or more frequent) brushing, the hair will have fewer mats and thus hurt less with time. Natural-bristle brushes are often softer and easier to use than synthetic brushes.
What is a relaxer? Should you press or straighten your child's hair?
Relaxers are chemicals which straighten hair. These should not be tried without professional consultation, and they are rarely suggested for children under 6 years old. To press hair means to heat it, making it straighten. Again, very young children do not usually have the patience for this kind of procedure, which should be taught by a professional the first time.

Do you know what ashy skin is?
Ash is excessively dry or flaky skin. It is important to use
lotion all over your child's skin, using mostly natural lotions like cocoa butter.
Should you use the same products on your child's hair as your own?
NO. There are special products designed specifically for black hair. These tend to be re-moisturizing, which is important. It is also essential to use some kind of hair moisturizer (creme or oil) at least once a day and after every washing. Make sure you use enough, so the hair looks shiny but not greasy.

Are there specific styles that are appropriate or not for African American children?
Yes. Generally, for boys, close cuts are considered attractive, and easy to maintain. Be careful about trying to have young children look too hip. Girls' hair is generally allowed to grow long and kept tied or braided every day. Since we don't want our children to have any extra burdens, we should be very careful about choosing styles from our own personal preferences over what is common among black Americans. African American children in Caucasian homes already stand out and often need the comfort of looking like mainstream African American children while still maintaining a bridge to their daily community.

Should I take my child to a professional salon or do it at home?
It is a very good idea to go to a professional salon that specializes in serving African Americans, where you can learn how and what to do with your child's hair. We recommend asking African American friends, others adoptive families, or agency representatives to recommend salons open to helping white parents of black children. A wonderful side benefit of this activity is the experience it gives you of being the only one of your race present in the salon or barber shop, while your child is one of the majority. Further, it offers you a chance to connect to new people who are the same race as your child. Also, it speaks volumes to your child about how much you value them within the context of their race. Nothing is as nice as to see your children leaving the salon with an extra strut in their step because of the fuss and attention they have just received. It's easy to feel great about yourself when you look great!

Adapted from an article by Marta Barton, Liza Steinberg, and Beth Hall


  1. I finally got brave and tried corn rows for the first time! I think they turned out pretty good for my first try. I posted pictures on my blog, take a look!

  2. I love your site but I couldn't read a lot of it because the wording blends into the black background and so I missed a lot of it. Thanks!!