Make detangling more fun (less unfun?) by turning it into a game

Ah, the joys of detangling long hair. Here’s how Amy manages the tresses:

Both my girls have long hair. One has long, blonde locks with an ultra-sensitive head, and the other has very curly, red hair and just doesn’t like to have it brushed. Well, needless to say, after a bath, it was nearly impossible to get any tangles out (even with the de-tangler sprays). There was crying, no cooperation, and hiding just to avoid the whole situation.

So, I started naming all the tangles after the monsters on Sesame Street. Every time we found a tangle, I’d call it Oscar the Grouch or Cookie Monster or whoever. It made it a lot more fun to get the monsters out of their hair! Now, we only keep Princesses in their hair and all the monsters have to get out!

Seriously, I know it sounds corny, but it works!

For curls, we’ve had good luck with a wide-tooth comb + conditioner while still in the bathtub (pre-towel drying). I also keep on hand a spray bottle full of water mixed with a dollop of conditioner (my cheapskate homemade detangler) which I spritz on my daughter’s hair every morning (to keep bedhead at bay).

Marginally related tangent: I’m of Indian and Jewish parentage, and when I was a little girl I had middle-of-the-back length, straight, thick, brown hair. Detangling and brushing (and pony-tailing and/or barretting) was a daily part of my life. First, spritz (did you know this is the Yiddish word for spray?), then comb, then brush, then style. My mom always started combing at the tips and worked her way to the root.

Boy did I look cute in those old photos, but when I imagine spending that much time on my daughter’s hair? Can’t see it happening. This makes me think we need to have a little “Talk Amongst Yourselves” about simple, cute girl’s hairstyles. Hmmmm. I’ll get back to you on that one.


Detangling little girls’ hair
Consider keeping little girls’ hair short


  1. says

    A friend’s toddler has very frizzy hair. Her hair stylist told her, “she doesn’t have a child’s hair, so she shouldn’t use a child’s product.” Enter Frizz-Ease, which is helping.

  2. SJ says

    Curly hair must be brushed while wet, never when dry. My mom still does not understand this and recently bought me a small brush “for my purse” (she has stick straight hair; not only do I never carry a purse, I never ever brush my hair, I just comb through the conditioner in the shower). No wonder frizz was such a part of my childhood hair.

  3. says

    To avoid tangles in hair in the morning try using a satin pillow case. Hair slides around instead of being stopped and held by cotton. I have several older relatives that swear by this and when I’ve stayed with them I’ve seen a big difference.

  4. radmama says

    We pretended to be combing out rats’ nests. It worked.

    Tight french braids were the only way to keep my daughters unruly hair tamed as a toddler. It took a good deal of acrobatic braiding to get it done, but it would keep her hair “done” for a day or two.

    To be honest, as soon as my kids could sit still long enough to have their thick curly hair cut (3 yo for my son, 4yo for my daughter) they went short until they could deal with detangling. It just wasn’t worth the agony and bad feelings.

  5. says

    I have two daughters. The 6-year old has corkscrew curls and the 8 year old has very long and wavy hair that tangles easily. It’s important to keep their hair trimmed. Split ends always make the tangling situation worse.

    I’ve always told my kids that the tangles are the work of the tangle fairy, a mean cousin of the tooth fairy. They’ve never believed me.

    “But how can you explain this?” I’d ask, hoisting up a particularly bad knot at the back of her head. “It can’t be anything BUT a tangle fairy.”

    “Mooooom,” it’s just my head moving around on the pillow!” is their usual reply.

    It’s become a sort of game, but fortunately, both girls have been very good about letting me comb their hair.

  6. Leigh says

    I had fine, curly hair growing up, and after years of hair battles with my older sister, Mom just kept my hair short until I was old enough to take care of it myself.

    My youngsters both have curly hair, just like mine, but they’re boys, so we don’t have to deal with detangling, fortunately. I do use a leave-in spray conditioner on their hair, which helps keep it tamed and brings out the curls.


  7. STL Mom says

    No cute tricks ever worked to make my daughter put up with getting her hair brushed or combed. Now she is 7 years old, and our deal is that she keeps it neatly combed AND lets me help her with tangles in the back, or we get a few inches cut off. In the last year she has gone from below the shoulders hair to a very cute little bob that almost reaches her chin.
    Now it is easier to take care of, and she knows what she needs to do to let it get longer again.

  8. says

    When I was a kid my mom found this awesome leave in conditioner. We lived in Spain so I don’t know where you can buy it in other countries. It came in a tall round yellow bottle and you had to buy it in the pharmacies there. It was awesome. The tangles literally combed out.

  9. Jamie says

    My favourite hack for hair detangling is just to not rinse out the conditioner. I guess the conditioner in “detangler” is just way too dilute for my ultra-thick, waist length hair because I never got any results using detangling spray other than soaking wet hair. Now I finger-comb about a quarter-sized dollop of moisturizing conditioner into the hanging part of my hair only and just get out of the shower like that. Following this method, my hair combs out with only one, easy continuous stroke per section. And if I get a serious tangle on a day when I am not washing the long part of my hair, I get a couple drops of conditioner on my fingers and work them quickly into the tangle. That way the tangle comes out fast and my hair is less damaged.
    Oh! and I sleep with my hair braided. No sense making tangles just for fun after all.

  10. Dylan says

    At some point, I started making up a song along the lines of “if you’re happy and you know it”.

    If your hair’s pulling and you know it, stamp one foot…

    the thing to do could be anything – name of a cousin, clap your hands, make a funny face/noise – as long as it doesn’t require her hair to get out of my reach.

    Interestingly, my wife never seems to do it right as far as our daughter’s concerned, so when there’s singing to be done, I have to do it.

  11. says

    I have curly hair and I have since I was young.

    a) I wholeheartedly agree with using adult hair products on kids with serious frizz/curls.

    b) When I was a kid there was a product on the market from Johnson’s & Johnson’s called No More Tangles. It changed my relationship with my mother.

    c) As an adult with curly hair I always follow these rules (I’m repeating some previous posters, but the curly hair rules, they bear repeating): yeah, COMB (not brush) when WET (not dry). Use conditioner daily (whether or not you shampoo daily; this might be hard with a kid, though, huh). After you rinse out the conditioner, add leave-in conditioner. And use a product (like Frizz-Ease, or in my case, Bouncy Creme) to keep the curl from getting crazy, and tangly, during the day.


  12. Louise says

    There is a book called Curly Girl that gives great advice on handling curly hair.

    -No brushing at all, and very little shampooing.

    -Do not towel dry hair the usual way, just squeeze the water out with an old t-shirt.

    -DO NOT brush or comb, even when wet.

    -Apply a gel when the hair is wet (Aveda Confixor is expensive but works best, at least for me) and do not touch the hair until it is dry.

    -Do not use a blowdryer.

    -Once the hair is dry, scrunch it to get rid of the “wet look,” but not enough to frizz out or destroy the curls.

    This method works great for me, although I always brush my hair out before washing it, because it’s very thick and otherwise would become a huge tangled mess. The book has a lot of good tips, and has a section about kids’ hair (as I recall).

  13. Jen says

    to make detangle work you have lot of time but i do not I might lazy but it worked My husband took our two young daughters to the barber shop where my husband and our tow older sons get their haircuts he told the barbers to cut our daughters very long hair very short like our two older sons hair.Now two daughters has very short hair just my two sons Now I take two daughters and two sons for very short haircuts from now on

  14. Anonymous says

    I agree with one post, the best thing for my daughters tangles is to put in alot of conditioner and brush through before rinsing. When I do this she can go 2 days without tangles or washing it. Normally when her dad puts her in the bath he doesn’t do it and it’s really noticable! She gets horrible rats nests on the back of her head and it hurts to detangle even with detangler spray. Tray it, it will save alot of crying and screaming ouch as you brush her hair.

  15. Buphie says

    Advice for curly hair and dandruff? My little girl has curly hair, and it looks great if we only shampoo and brush-when-wet once a week or so. She hates having her hair washed too. But, she gets NASTY dandruff if we don’t wash it at least every couple days. I’ve tried using her dads dandruff shampoo once a week, and it’s a little better, but still kind of yucky.

    I have stick-straight, fine hair, and wash at least once a day, twice if I’m going out at night. This curly stuff is way out of my league.

    How do you balance dandruff and curly-hair-looks-best-unwashed?

  16. Uly says

    Best way to avoid detangling woes is to never let the hair get that tangled in the first place.

    Braid it every night before bed, put a cap on it, and rebraid it in the morning. Hair can’t tangle if it’s neatly tied back. Plus, braids deter lice.

    It’s also important not to overuse shampoo. When you dry out the hair, it gets tangled faster.

  17. Uly says

    Buphie, have you tried washing her hair without shampoo? With baking soda and vinegar, or just with conditioner?