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Baby Hygiene

There's more to keeping kids clean and well groomed than just a nightly bath. Their fingernails need trimming, their hands are constantly dirty, and then there's the hair. Kids' hair is such a defining feature, of course you want it to look nice -- but what toddler wants to sit still to have his hair brushed, much less cut? Here's a guide to these hair-raising issues (just kidding -- with our tips, they're no big deal!) and more.

It's Tub Time

How often should you shampoo? A daily bath is fine if it's part of your regular routine, but your child doesn't need a shampoo every day, according to Cozy Friedman, founder of Cozy's Cuts for Kids in New York City and creator of So Cozy hair products. Shampooing twice a week, three times max, is adequate. More than that, and hair may become limp and flat.

Another common mistake: using too much shampoo. A nickel-size dollop is enough. If your child's hair is getting tangled or becoming dry, it could be time to switch shampoos. Older children may have different hair needs, requiring products with moisturizer or conditioner.

Hand Washing Hints

Washing hands regularly is an important habit to instill in kids -- not only does it keep them clean, but it prevents kids from getting sick. To help your child do it right -- and not just go through the motions -- make the process as easy as you can.

  • Get a step stool so he can reach the sink.
  • Choose a soap that comes in a dispenser that's easy for him to operate and fun to use.
  • Run his hands under lukewarm water and let him lather up with the soap.
  • Sing the ABC song as he rubs his hands together, which should take at least 15 seconds, the amount of time it takes to get his hands clean.
  • Don't forget to dry his hands thoroughly!

Baby's First Real Haircut

  • When? There's no set time. "That first haircut doesn't have to be a scalping -- you could have a baldy who's growing wings and needs the fuzzy ends trimmed," says Friedman. "It's definitely time when the hair starts getting in their eyes."
  • How often? Boys with short hair need a cut about every 6 to 8 weeks. With girls, it depends whether they have long or short hair. It's important to keep trimming the dead ends so their hair stays healthy looking.
  • What to know when booking the cut? Call ahead and ask who's good with kids. If you just show up, you'll get whoever is available.
  • How to prepare? Let your child get used to the idea by watching other people getting their hair cut.
  • What to take? If you have a specific look in mind, be sure to take a picture with you. Tell the hairdresser, "When we're done, I want the bangs to look like this."
  • When will your baldy grow some hair? No way to know. Enjoy this hassle-free hair phase, and dress baby in a bonnet or cap to reveal the gender.

Tips for a Home Haircut

  • "Choose your setting and distraction. Let your child watch a video during the cut, or have another adult blow bubbles," says Friedman.
  • Avoid using the word "cut." "Lots of toddlers find that scary," notes Friedman. Instead say "trim" or "style."
  • Wet the hair. The easiest way to do this is to use a spray bottle and say, "Look, it's raining." Still, lots of kids don't like the sensation. If that's the case, just wet a wide-tooth comb and run it through your child's hair.
  • Have a game plan -- start in the front and work your way around to the sides and then the back.
  • Be careful of bangs -- people have a tendency to cut them too short. If hair is curly, it can shrink by up to an inch once it's dry.

Kids' Hair-Care Problems
Going Green

  • Problem: Your child's hair is like straw after a summer in chlorinated pools -- and/or it has a strange greenish tint.
  • Solution: Her hair needs a detox program with a special chlorine-removing shampoo.

Gummy Hair

  • Problem: Your child has put a wad of gum in her hair. You don't want to cut it out.
  • Solution: Work a gob of peanut butter through her hair. The oil in the peanut butter works out the gum's stickiness -- and is easier to remove than baby oil or Vaseline.

Bed Head

  • Problem: When your son wakes up, his hair is sticking up straight or flattened out.
  • Solution: The price of easy-to-care-for short hair is the bed-head look. Take a bit of alcohol-free styling gel and rub through your child's hair to flatten.

Tackling Tangles

  • Use a spray-in detangler for a bad case of tangles. Let the product sit a bit before brushing.
  • Gather the hair at the nape of the neck and hold upright. Use one hand to hold hair by the roots; use the other to gently comb out tangles, starting from the bottom.
  • Go up the hair about two inches at a time. The base of the head should be taking all the pressure to minimize pulling.
  • Buy the right brush. Look for one with padding at the base and bristles that have plastic-coated tips. A wide-tooth comb with pointy, not rounded, edges will also do the job.

Pointers on Piercing

Many parents love the look of a little girl with pierced ears. Most pediatricians would prefer that kids not wear earrings until they're 3 or 4 because they're a choking hazard, says Sarah Dumond, MD, a pediatrician in Charlotte, North Carolina. "But for many, it's a cultural tradition."

If you choose to pierce baby's ears, wait until she's at least 6 months. "If a baby under 1 month gets a fever resulting from an infection, a series of invasive tests is required," says Dr. Dumond. Ask your doctor if her office does ear piercing -- many do. "The places in the mall have to meet health standards, but they may not be skilled at dealing with squirmy babies," Dr. Dumond says.

Giving Manicures and Pedicures

It's nerve-racking clipping a baby's nails, but don't put it off. A newborn's nails grow quickly, and he'll scratch himself if you let his nails get too long. Try trimming right after a bath when nails are soft or when baby is sleeping. One person should hold the baby while the other one cuts.

Use rounded nail scissors or baby nail clippers. Trim the nail in a curved fashion that follows the nail's shape. Press the tip of the finger back to avoid cutting the skin. Too scary? Use an emery board to file nails instead of cutting.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, August 2005.