Hair Wars

Getting shampooed can violate a 5-year-old's strong sense of self. Here's how to get the deed done without inciting a battle.
child in bathrobe

Heather Weston

Q: My 5-year-old hates getting her hair washed. How can I make this chore less unpleasant for her as well as for me?

A: "View the experience as a chance to have fun with your child," advises Marilyn Benoit, M.D., president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Washington, DC. "And make sure to give her as much control as you can." Here are some tactics to try:

  • Allow plenty of time to wash your daughter's hair, and don't start the task when she's hungry or tired or when you're feeling stressed out.
  • Give your daughter a washable doll with hair that she can lather herself.
  • Use a "no-tears" shampoo, and a detangler if combing is difficult.
  • Put earplugs or cotton in her ears if she doesn't like getting water in them.
  • Encourage her to have fun with the suds by making shapes with her wet, bubbly hair. Use a shampoo visor to keep suds out of her eyes, and hold up a mirror so she can admire her work.
  • Give your daughter a cup so she can attempt rinsing her own hair.

When none of this helps, don't force the issue with your child. As Dr. Benoit says, "Skipping a shampoo isn't the worst thing in the world."

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