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HELP! The Power Struggle Over Managing Your Daughter’s Hair

Dr. Seth Meyers


If you have a teenage daughter, odds are that she cares about her appearance and that she takes care of her own hair. But if you have a daughter who is anywhere from, say, five to eleven or twelve years old, you may be like millions of other parents who deal with daily power struggles over something that seems so silly: hair.

The power struggle

Many young girls don’t want to wash their hair at all or they don’t wash it well, so a parent often washes it for them. Sadly, there’s a lot more to hair care than simply washing it. Add to the list brushing the hair, and you’ve got a bigger problem. Simply put, long hair requires a lot of work. Most boys keep their hair short, which means that their hair isn’t subject to the constant tangling that makes long hair more difficult to manage. Because young girls usually aren’t very appearance-conscious – meaning, they will leave the house without even looking in the mirror – they don’t care whether their hair looks neat or unkempt. The hard part for parents is that parents feel responsible for everything about their young child, including how they look. Most parents fear that their daughter’s unkempt hair indicates that the child’s parent is neglecting them, which makes parents feel anxious. For this reason, most parents find themselves getting sucked into silly power struggles over those unkempt little locks.

Acting out, independence, and defiance

A girl with hair that’s shoulder-length or longer needs to brush her hair in the morning, after a bath, and before bed in order to keep the hair well managed. The vast majority of young girls won’t use such discipline because they don’t really care; they are a little lazy and don’t want to deal with the obligation; and they know supermom or superdad will do it for them. Most parents have better things to do than to worry about their child’s hair – especially once that child is at least seven or eight and fully capable of doing it herself – but parents end up doing it because they feel it has to be done.

The problem really starts when the parent steps in to brush the hair and the child gets annoyed or even angry. Here you are, the parent, trying to help, and your help is not only not appreciated but met with hostility. Perhaps your daughter makes snide comments or huffs and puffs, and sometimes an argument develops or tears are shed. Folks, this is the power struggle. Your daughter is annoyed and you are annoyed, so this could-be-intimate experience morphs into yet another negative interaction. My advice: Do not engage in the power struggle.

When your daughter fights you about her hair, redirect yourself from fixating on it and demanding that you get your way.
Instead, accept the fact that her hair will not look as perfect as you’d like.

You should have only one fixed rule about her hair. It must be brushed prior to leaving the house in the morning. Any brushing beyond that would be great, but you can’t put your foot down or you will get sucked back into a power struggle.

If she won’t brush her hair after a bath or before bed, offer to help her. If she says no, show no emotion and say “okay, that’s your choice.” The next morning before she leaves the house, run the brush a few times through her hair and say, “If you want to do a better job with it, feel free to use the brush after me.”

Keep several brushes on hand. Keep one in the car, one in her room, one in her backpack, and always keep an extra in reserve. With my daughter, for example, she has a brush in the backseat that she can use as we drive to school, and I also keep one in the console of my car in case hers “magically” disappears.

Finally, remember that your daughter – in all her feistiness and defiance about her hair – is actually acting on an unconscious level: she is trying to practice becoming independent. When she says no to you or fights you on something, she feels older and more independent. This wish to become more independent and to take a stand against a parent is actually very healthy. Remember, you might secretly wish for a compliant child, but compliant children never grow up to become leaders!

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Dr. Seth Meyers

Dr. Seth Meyers is a licensed clinical psychologist and author in Los Angeles, California. He specializes in parenting and relationships, and he is trained in multiple evidence-based parenting interventions. Dr. Seth earned his B.A. in psychology from Vassar College and earned his Psy.D. in clinical psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. He appears regularly on television programs, including Good Morning America, 20/20, ABC News, The Doctors, Nancy Grace, Dr. Drew and others. Dr. Seth is the author of Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.