My daughter, Katie—the love and pride of my heart—will be five years old in December. She inherited her mommy’s curls but, unlike most children of her age, will tell you all about her “pretty curls” with little prompting. And she always notices others with curly hair. “Look, Mommy,” she’ll say when we are out shopping and pass a woman with curly locks. “That lady has pretty curls just like you and me.”

I can’t describe the joy I feel at being able to give her a positive experience about her hair. So many of us grew up feeling self-conscious about our curls: sometimes with mothers or other guardians who simply didn’t understand how to deal with it, sometimes with pressure to conform to some standard of “acceptable” hair that felt wrong to us deep down inside, but we unable to understand why we felt that way.

The good news is that, as we educate ourselves about how to deal with our own curly hair, the more equipped we are to pass that education along to our children. The hardest thing to remember, though, is how quickly our children sense and pick up our attitudes if we haven’t quite accepted our curls ourselves.

I had a huge reality check myself when Katie was three years old. I’ve learned to love my curly hair, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have bad hair days or days during a Florida August where I’d trade my left arm for an afternoon of straight, shiny, frizz-free locks. One day, in the thick of the summer heat and humidity, I was fussing and complaining about how I didn’t want my curls anymore when this tiny voice suddenly piped up beside me.

“Me either, Mommy.”

Talk about a major smack in the face. The first thought through my mind was: what was I, a supposed curly hair expert, teaching my daughter? How could I expect her to love her hair if I didn’t lead by example and show her I loved my own?

It took a while after that for Katie to understand that our curls were special and Mommy really did love her hair. Today, I don’t hide my bad hair days from her, but I am very careful to make the distinction between disliking my curls and disliking how they are falling on a particular day. And she gets it, thank goodness, but I shudder to think how easily I could have instilled a hatred towards her curls in her, no matter how innocently.

One of the best presents we can give our children in any aspect of life is honesty and knowledge. I think teaching our curly kids how to love their curls while educating them on the realities of their care is a good part of the game plan. And if you are the straight-haired parent of a curly child, it is doubly important you find resources to help you understand your child’s gorgeous and special hair.

Here are a few tips on how to help your curly child understand, love and care for their beautiful, unique gift:

1) Teach them that their hair is special. I tell my daughter having curly hair is a privilege and an honor, and that means it takes a little bit more care than other kinds of hair. It is never too early to start instilling pride of ownership in them: I’ve had children as young as four or five sit in my chair who were already uncomfortable with or disliked their curls.

2) Include your child in the care maintenance routine of their hair. Of course, a child of three or four isn’t going to be able to participate as a child of eight or nine can. But it is still important for you to include them in their own hygiene routine at the level where they can participate, and talk about or show them how to properly cleanse, condition and detangle their curly locks.

3) Respect their preferences. As your child gets older, she will start to express preferences for her hair style as a natural part of her growing identity. Do your best to respect her wishes so she feels her input into her appearance is important and valued.

4) Find a curl-sensitive stylist. All the pride in the world won’t combat the damage done by an insensitive stylist who exclaims, “Oh my God, look at this hair!” in disbelief. Before you take your curly kid to a new stylist, arrange a consultation with them prior to your actual appointment to determine their attitude towards and sensitivity to curly hair. It only takes one or two thoughtless remarks to cause years of self-consciousness.

I can promise that instilling pride and self-esteem into your beautiful curly child now will save them years of heartache down the road.

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