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Curly Nikki

Our Elders and Natural Hair

By January 27th, 202122 Comments

Our Elders and Natural Hair
Yvette writes:

Recently, especially with the Sesame Street song being out, I have seen a lot of articles regarding how Black women view their hair and what type of message they send to their children (especially daughters) with comments, either negative or positive. And that got me thinking. The last time I went home for a visit, my 4-year old niece who did not have a perm the last time I’d seen her, now had a perm. I asked her mom why she chose to do this, and she said she was too busy to take care of her daughter’s head (she’s an engineer for Los Angeles county) … understandable, but putting in a relaxer takes time too. After that, I had a conversation with another cousin of mine who is transitioning, and she told me I should just tell my niece’s mom to stop relaxing her hair. But I have yet to do so because I feel like I am telling her what to do with her child, especially me having no kids, where do I get off? My question is:

How do you talk to your “elders,” so to speak (my niece’s mom is 10+ years older than me so I just can’t speak to her anyhow) when it comes to a sensitive subject like their children and hair care?


  • Curly in the A says:

    Sorry, my comment posted in the wrong thread.

  • Curly in the A says:

    I am SOOOO glad to see more acceptance of natural hair but, unfortunately, many of our elders are stuck in their way of thinking.

    I always had long hair (mid-back) and did the bold step of chopping it all off in 2006. Not a big chop, since I was a press and curl girl, but I wanted to feel what it was like to have short hair once in my life.

    Plus, my hair had broken off to various lengths over the years and I was tired of dealing with it).

    You'd have thought I killed five people. Relatives asked, "Why did you cut your pretty hair?" It's taken a while, but I realized that I was the one who always was identified by my hair (I was dark skinned, so people would pull thinking it was fake)and it's just how I saw myself. Plus, most of the women in my have long, thick hair. One aunt even asked me if my hair was fake with my wash and go, LOL!

    I told my relatives that I want something different and nothing else was said.

    My hair is back long again (my plan is to let it grow out for four years until I'm 40 and then revisit, cuz I love short styles!)

    Today, I would probaby have a different response, but I believe you can be polite yet firm and respectful: This is MY hair, I'm grown, you don't pay for it to get done, so let me DO ME! Or something like that!

  • vetty says:

    Thank you Nikki for posing my question to the CN community :) I too was relaxed at a young age (for my kindergarten graduation), so I know from personal experience the pain of the chemicals and later realized how that affected how I looked at myself. Since my high school prom, I have not relaxed my hair and within the last 7 months have stopped pressing. All of your suggestions are duly noted and will be used the next time I go home. It's probably best to not tell her, and probably just show by example. Somehow, I'm sure a hair conversation will come up. I can't wait to use these ideas. Thank you all again :)

  • Anonymous says:

    Well I said something to my nephew's wife about my nieces' hair and she (the mother) paid me absolutely no attention. She asked me a few questions about natural hair care and continued about her business.

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi,ladies this is my first comment and i am in the exact same position with my sister and my seven year old niece who had thick,tightly curled hair before her mom decided her hair was too hard to handle and gave her a perm ,now her hair is thin and stringy.i asked her what products she is using in her hair because my nieces hair is very sticky and crunchy.when she said she was using Jam and hair gel to comb her hair i could have hit the floor.i gave her some product suggestions that would be better for her hair and if looks could kill i would have been dead.i told her it was just a suggestion take it how she wanted to,needless to say she didn't take my suggestion until her daughter spent the night with me and i combed her hair the next morning i got a call from my sister asking what i used in her hair because she loved how soft it was and how good it smelled.i made her a little basket and my nieces hair is starting to grow and my sister is considering putting an end to the relaxers, so i think there is something to be said about the power of can't tell someone what to do with their childs hair but if you suggets a few ideas she may she listen.

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree with kimmie0810 as well. "Unless Auntie is willing to do all of that then she might have to just stay out of it."
    This statement applies to anyone that has unrequested "advice" on how others should care for their hair. Unless someone inquires, it's best to just observe and move on. Otherwise, people may begin to avoid folks with natural hair the same as they would a used car salesman.

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree with kimmie0810. And that's great that you do that for your niece. She's a special girl to have her auntie making sure her hair is healthy. Nice bonding time as well.

    Unfortunately, since Yvette says that she found out that her little niece was relaxed on a visit home, I get the feeling that her niece lives too far away for her to be personally responsible for her hair :-( O well, I guess she would if she could…

  • kimmie0810 says:

    Nobody should be surprised by this b/c it's the "norm" for mothers to relaxe their children's hair to supposedly make it more manageable. If she's diligent about taking care of the girl's hair then that's her prerogative as a mother. Nothing can really be done when it comes to other people's hair or their children's hair.

    4yrs old is way too young for relaxers, in MY opinion. If the mom is approachable & open to help, then provide her with information. Ask "If I can find ways for you to easily care for the baby's hair w/o relaxers, will you give it a try?". Let her know that u are not criticizing her as a mother. Since she's busy, u might have to do the research & e-mail the links to specific articles directly to her. Just coming to sites like this could be overwhelming & discouraging for someone who's really not into it. Beads Braids & Beyond is an excellent source of info.

    Otherwise I'm afraid it is PUT UP OR SHUT UP when it comes to telling people what to do with theirs (hair or children). I have had to put up & am now solely responsible for my 9yr old cousin's haircare. Her mother relaxed it to DEATH. Never took care of it & had her going to some frymaster stylist & the edges all the way around her head broke off to about an inch. I come out of my pocket to buy her products & take her to get her hair braided or twisted to keep protective styles while her hair grows out. Unless Auntie is willing to do all of that then she might have to just stay out of it.

  • Anonymous says:

    I have elder cousins with young kids and they constantly remark about the health of my natural hair and self-styling. I know they are interested because they always want to know what I "put in my hair to make it so…" and joke that I use nothing but the finest of berries and juices. The thing is that they all have boys! So I frequently visit with samples of my personal concoctions but also with samples of Mixed Chicks, Curly Q, Aveda, Cantu, DevaCurl or whatever it is that I am testing at the moment and use it on their boys to help define waves or style, etc. I ALWAYS state where I got the product and encourage them to search out the products that can be found in Walmart, Target and Kmart – places where moms tend to shop for good deals. Since many of these products are less toxic and use natural ingredients – they become hooked on that alone, especially nowadays where folks are more conscious of these things. Now I hear more and more of my adult cousins using these products on themselves as well as their young boys and they love how conditioned their hair is. To a certain extent I realize how hard it is to break certain traditions and bad habits (especially for busy parents who often think only of EASE) so I just do my best to positively nudge them into expanding their horizons in regards to hair care and personal health. It is a lifestyle change and as we know – often it is a huge change. Another way to encourage change is in the form of a gift. I recently gave a hot pink Denham brush with a pink hand mirror with a whole set of Curls hair products to the 3 year old daughter of a friend. The mom, my friend, had been making noises about keeping the kid natural-haired but was at a loss about how to maintain it as she got older. I checked in afterwards and both parent and child had awesome reviews about the products as well as their whole new system. It takes a village to raise a child – don't hesitate about how you could contribute a positive experience for a child and their parents.


  • Kingsmomma says:

    I have said things before to close friends and amily regarding this situation but each time I have said something, I have offered my services as well.

    Taking care of hair, both natural or permed is alot of work. I have a son who still has hair and working with him and trying to avoid breakage while still allowing him to do little child stuff is difficult. The one thing I did when talking to the other person was to point out that the child had severe breakage and it was no doubt due to the perms. Again I also offered my services to the mother so it took some of the burden off her shoulders.

  • E says:

    I forgot one thing lol

    I also think it's important to sympathize with her. If you approach someone as if they're horrible and should be ashamed of what they're doing and you have the key to doing the right thing, a person could be seriously turned off from what you have to say. Let her know that you understand, if not as a mother, then as a woman who has to find time to do her own hair while living a busy life.

  • E says:

    I think it's great that you want to be sensitive about this. I think (and I'm a 20-something with no children) it's best to
    a) start by telling her that her daughter has pretty hair regardless
    b) telling her that it's healthier for her to consider having her perhaps go to get her hair pressed or braided (what mom can argue with a health concern?)
    c) backing up what you say by giving her examples of health risks
    d) give her options. A person is more likely to listen if you give them a simple, "real world" solution instead of just telling them to go do something. Suggest some hair products for easy detangling and softness. How bout Karen's Body Beautiful hair milk and hair butter and then a cute high bun or french braid? That's quick and it'll last a little while. Again, suggest hair appointments for a press, blow out, or braided style.

    Other than that, girl, your guess is about as good as mine! lol But this is a touchy subject. And don't forget that you as a natural (if you're natural) are a testament to what you say about natural hair. Don't go over there to talk to her with your hair all busted! lol Keep it cute and simple, and show her the possibilities, a simple way to make a statement without coming on too strong and beating her over the head.

  • MissCurly says:

    If this is your neice I assume her mom is your sister or sister in law. Anywho I had a similar situation with my sister who is transitioning and thought about doing the same with my neices hair but changed her mind. She tried to explain that her daughters her was just to hard to manage without one. All I did was simply explain that for the same reasons she wanted to go natural should be the same reasons she lets her daughter go natural. Then I pointed her to sites like this, youtube videos, ect.

    As of right now she still has not changed her mind about letting my neice go natural(my neice want to go natural at 12 years old by the way). So I'm hoping that once my sister is completely natural and sees how easy and wonderful it is :) She will change her mind about my neice. Or my neice is getting older so pretty soon she'll be doing her own hair so she can go natural on her own.

    All you can do is give them as much information and examples but if they dont catch on its on them.

    "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink"

  • Anonymous says:

    Who puts a relaxer on a 4yr old's head? That's just wrong. I think if you told her in a very sensitive non judgemental way, it may work out. My 8 year old has a huge amount of natural hair, I don't love doing it but have learned how to do simple cornrows in order to only have to do it every other week. Good luck!

  • Sherri says:

    i agree with jetblack. Call me passive/aggressive if you'd like, but I would not directly mention the child's hair. I would speak about myself and maybe "other kids" with gorgeous natural hair. But I wouldn't dare tell someone what I think they should do with their child. I'm a pro a telling people things without telling them!! Tell a story about another little girl who transitioned, but don't even hint that you're telling her for her child!

  • jetblack says:


    you are about to open a whole can of extra juicy worms. Offering people childcare tips is volatile. doesnt matter what it is about. I would just talk to her about your hair journey and the natural community in general in reference to you. Don't mention the child. Just tell her about all the things you have discovered and how you like being natural and wished you had started sooner. and the styles you want to try, how long protective styles last, how much money you are saving. If you do this in a genuine way and dont seem to be obviously passing on judgment about her I think she will respond. Also you can offer to help her for the first couple of months with the childs hair after she expresses a desire to try going back to natural with her daughter.
    just proceed with caution.

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm not familiar with your background but if haircare is your field of expertise, then I say, voice your opinion, the worse she can do is get mad,and SO WHAT, at least she heard you and at least you warned her. its doesn't matter if you have kids. Like you said, relaxer takes time, way more time then ponytails, some kids hair is too kinky for ponytails, but that kinky hair is ideal for braids, or even dreads. And as soon as she misses a retouch, her hair will begin to fall out, and if she continues to apply this chemical, the childs hair/scalp won't stand a chance. She might as well let the girl drink coffee and smoke cigarettes! Relaxer is not for kids, period.

  • Unknown says:

    Hmm… well, you should definitely approach this thoughtfully.

    I've been in this situation before with friends. I've known them and their daughters for a few years and our families hang out. Like you I don't have kids. They cited the same reason — lack of time — in their decision to relax their daughters' hair. Is it indeed saving them time? Yes, actually it is. So from their standpoint, the goal was met.

    My logic in *NOT* fighting to get them to change their minds: if I'm not personally willing to step in and do their daughters' hair for them every weekend, then my vote to "Stay Natural" probably isn't going to weigh much. However, I do think we can lead by example. Their mother has since talked about wanting to go natural… but we all know, there's a big diff between saying it and actually doing it. Sidebar: I love being natural, but there's a lot of pressure in feeling like my hair is there to 'prove a point' to some people, that it can be done, it can be beautiful, it can be long and healthy, etc. Okay, off my little soapbox now.

    Unless you have a truly honest relationship with your neice's mom, where you can approach her and try to convince her to stop perming, I think it's best to pursue educating her about the pros and cons. Send her articles, find opportunities to inject the benefits of being natural casual conversation, whatever you think might be most effective. Perhaps you will make a solid argument for natural hair and it will change her mind. Or perhaps not. I think it's certainly worth a try, especially since you obviously care about your niece.

    **ON THE FLIP SIDE** After a quick two-strand twist tutorial, my cousin's mom is now a pro at doing her little girl's hair! showing worked better than telling :)

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree with the first commenter. It would probably be a good idea to "show" her this site or give her some other information to read concerning caring for natural hair, and the damaging effects of chemical relaxers not only to the hair but to the body overall.

    I just find it disturbing that the mother, who is no doubt relaxing her own hair as well, would choose the option of using chemicals on a child.

    When I first started getting relaxers (I was in my late teens) I had been advised to NOT scratch my scalp if it felt itchy during the several days prior to getting my hair done.

    Just to be clear I did not have eczema or psoriasis on my scalp, I am just talking about normal, occasional itching.

    Not scratching helped but it did not stop that awful burning sensation on certain areas of my head anyway.

    I know a 4-year-old would not be able to refrain from scratching even if she were told. And like I said that won't alleviate the power of those chemicals regardless of how mild the relaxer is.

    I hope the mom will reconsider, and make the health of her child's hair a priority.

  • Unknown says:

    While I don't agree with relaxing a child's hair at that age, I don't think its your place to tell your niece's mom to stop relaxing her hair.

    From personal experience as a mother who has heard advice from even strangers about how to do my daughter's hair, it can come across as high handed. Believe me, I got tired of hearing you should braid, relax, texlax, stay natural, blah blah blah. Not only did I feel people had nerve it also made me feel I was being judged. And if the comments were made in front of my daughter, she was uncomfortable.

    Now I'm not saying you can't make a mention of some sites you've seen or products that are nice for children. Sarah mentioned Beads, Braids, and Beyond which I feel is a great site.

    I would just suggest you be careful with your approach. "Hey I saw this great website with about little girls and I thought of "insert niece's name here"" vs. "Girl, you need to stop relaxing that baby's hair."

    Just my two pennies.

  • Anonymous says:

    if you can talk to anyone about such matters, family should be the #1 place. since she is your niece, it kinda IS your place to speak up on it. don't do it with an air of superiority, but you should def be able to talk to family about it. just approach her with respect and also respect her right to agree or disagree with you. just don't come at her like you are "telling her what to do with her child" and it should be all good. if you need visual evidence, beads braids and beyond is a great website to start with.

  • Anonymous says:

    I would recommmend that you do not tell her. But show her, that taking care of her daughters natural hair is less time consuming than taking her to the salon every 6 weeks to get a touch up and pressing her hair every week(or every day depending on the humidity level). It is also less expensive but seeing that she is an engineer for LA county, money is probably not an issue. Introduce her to CurlyNikki's site and other sites and teach her how to manage her daughters hair. I still think it is complete lunacy to relax a childs hair. I'm sure that those harsh chemicals are damaging her scalp in ways you can't even think of. I didn't get my first relaxer until I was about 6 but if I could show you what can happen when you don't take care of relaxed hair people would never touch the stuff again.

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