Mothers generally have a huge influence on their daughter’s life, and so do other female role models like big sisters, aunties and even educators. This includes the area of hair care. We asked life health strategist, Dr Patti O’Brien-Richardson, for tips on how to shape a girl’s reflection of her hair.

What’s the best way to start conversations around loving your hair? 

So much of what influences a child’s developing mind occurs in the environment in which they live, learn, and play. Conversations about “hair love” should take place naturally and as frequently as possible. There’s no need for a special sit down, it can happen anywhere. Conversation starters can begin with an image of a girl with straight or curly hair while watching television, while shopping and noticing images of girls who look like them, or during dinner and other day-to-day activities.

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One of the most powerful tools to spark conversation on this topic is asking questions with a sincere interest and curiosity. Special care should be taken to not ask questions in a demeaning, patronising or judgmental way. This takes practice; I fail at it on a regular basis. However, the goal is to create an environment where your child can speak to you about virtually anything at any time. Ask questions such as: 

· “Why this hairstyle and not that one?” 

· “Which hairstyle would you wear for … event?” 

· “Have you ever tried a curly hairstyle?”

What are some of the mistakes moms make when talking about hair to their children?

One of the biggest mistakes is in the ways moms describe their own and their children’s hair. Words are extremely powerful. They can mend and heal or can harm and destroy. Words connected to negative stereotypes, unfavourable images, or a singular societal standard of beauty should be avoided and replaced with words that are positive, affirming, and descriptive of the beauty and vision the mother has for her daughter.

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What if your own hair is relaxed and straight? 

Mom should lead by example and start the conversation first by sharing about her own hair, why she wears her hair the way she does, and the circumstances that led her to wear her hair that way. Such mother-daughter hair stories can dynamically shape girls to explore their endless hair options.

How would having a black doll with natural hair be helpful in normalising the kink hair that your child may have? 

For decades, societal beauty standards worldwide have largely been the European face, body and hair. Although the shift towards normalising beauty is changing, there’s still work to do. All children need to see themselves in a positive light. Their toys, books, images, and movies all play a role. 

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What if your child asks to have her hair straightened/relaxed? 

The first question would be to ask why, followed by a conversation addressing the why, particularly if it involves standards of beauty, self-esteem, colourism, or self-hate. 

While it’s still very common to straighten a child’s hair as young as two years old, it’s not advisable, due to the fragile state of the hair at that tender age. The hair is still growing and developing deep within the follicle. Using chemicals to permanently straighten a young child’s hair could have permanent and harmful effects on their developing body and on their psychological development as well. Essentially, despite the fact that straightening a young child’s hair may be convenient, it may also send a message to the child that their hair is unacceptable in its natural, original state. Furthermore, several studies have shown a link between chemical hair straighteners and premature birth and low-birth weights among pregnant women.

For more info on her work visit www.pattiobrienrichardson.com