Adoptive parents often foster and adopt children who are of a different cultural or ethnic group. As we’ve mentioned previously, this requires a family commitment to embrace their child’s ethnicity and culture. A small part of adopting an African American or Biracial child is understanding how to best care for their hair.
African American Hair is surprisingly fragile in spite of its strong and course appearance. For this reason, African American hair needs special care in order to make it grow and keep it healthy.
Some Facts and Tips:
– Most experts say you should shampoo only every seven to 10 days.
– African-American hair shrinks more when dry (wet hair can be up to twice as long as dry hair), and has more elasticity. Generally, the hair contains less water, grows more slowly, and breaks more easily than Caucasian or Asian hair.
-African-American hair needs supplemental moisture to stand up to styling because it is naturally dry. Stay away from products that contain alcohol.
– Curly textures tend to be the most vulnerable to drying out and breaking because the bends in kinky hair make it difficult for natural oils to work their way down the hair shaft.
-When combing African American hair always use a wide-toothed comb that will not catch and snag the hair. Avoid using a brush on wet hair as it will stretch and damage the hair follicle. Try to loosen the tangles with your fingers.
-Chemical and heat styling can suck the internal moisture from hair, making it brittle and fragile. To avoid breakage, look for heat-shielding and hydrating products that contain silicone. They coat the hair and help seal in moisture.
-Avoid products designed for limp hair. Ingredients that add body can actually strip oils and remove moisture. Products with lanolin or other greasy products moisturize, but they can clog the pores on your scalp and weigh hair down. You may prefers conditioners with essential oils — like grape seed oil, for example — that moisturize without leaving an oily residue.
-Experts also suggest wrapping hair in a satin scarf before bed to help hair retain moisture. Cotton fibers in pillowcases can wick away hydration.
Our Staff member JulieAnn Jones, MSW, is an adoptive Mama and our Social Work Supervisor at CHI. She offers her insights about specifically caring for her daughter’s hair:
For my African American daughter, one of her most significant and visible cultural needs is her hair! She has beautiful, gorgeous, kinky, curly hair. When I first became her mama eight wonderful years ago, I had only the basic knowledge of how to care for her hair. Many books, blogs, friends, magazines, and YouTube videos later, we are doing much better! Hair is an ongoing topic in our home which includes weekly washing and styling sessions. Our typical routine is to wash her hair on Friday nights and style it on Saturday. Sticking to a routine has worked best for us and we vary it when needed. Here are a few of our favorite hair products:
Our typical routine is to wash her hair once a week and then comb out with a leave in conditioner. We moisturize her hair daily by either adding in hair lotion or spray-on hair moisturizer. Other products are used for twisting, braiding, and moisturizing her scalp. As my daughter gets older, the styles that are appropriate for her are constantly changing. It’s an ongoing challenge to continue learning, I will never have all the answers.
When you are a conspicuous family, your child likely realizes their differences more significantly than you. Helping them to identify with their peer group can be even more important to adopted children. As a mother, I feel it is my responsibly to make myself vulnerable for her sake. I have worked to expand my peer group and have found a great response when I’ve asked for help. I learned how to cornrow by watching YouTube! Yes, YouTube is a great reference when looking for a tutorial. I also have several blogs I follow which help with hair products and styling ideas.
My daughter and I enjoy looking through magazines or blogs for new and interesting hairstyles to try. I often let her steer the direction of her style, as long as it’s within my ability! We have had many brilliant successes and some humorous disasters! It’s a wonderful bonding experience between the two of us and she has developed a strong sense of pride in her beautiful and fun hair.
When adopting a child of another culture, we need to be committed to building their self-esteem while acknowledging and celebrating their differences. It is important as a parent to stay aware of cultural styles. If there are some that are not congruent with your family beliefs, incorporate the ones you are comfortable with and find an appropriate balance.