Hair’em scare’em

A month ago Charlotte stopped brushing her hair. She stopped washing it too. She’s done this before, but it had been a long time and I wasn’t expecting it to happen again. I didn’t mention anything. I dropped that battle long ago.

When my mother started to notice and complain about it, I said to Charlotte, “Would you be willing to take a shower today?” She responded with a flat, “No.” Nothing more. Hmm, I thought. Interesting.

unwashed hairThe last time this happened she at least tried to hide it in a tight ponytail. This time her ponytail was half falling out and she left it that way, day after day.

Also about a month ago she started showing signs of frustration with the increased homework expectations of fourth grade. It took me a while to make the connection. Power, I suddenly thought, she’s grasping for power!

I wrote to her teacher: “As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Charlotte’s on a hair-care strike. I’m guessing she’s been feeling a bit powerless around the homework situation and this is one way she tries to get some of that power back in her life. Just guessing, but she’s done this before with other situations.”

I refrained from adding that this could well be Charlotte’s way of subconsciously flipping the bird at her and her endless stream of worksheets. Or perhaps just an outward expression of utter discouragement. Or both.

Her teacher and I met and she agreed to make some changes and provide Charlotte with the support she needs to get more of her work done at school.

All the while I resisted making any comment to Charlotte about the state of her hair.

What happened next, although really not surprising, still amazed me: After just one week of reduced homework stress, Charlotte announced from the back of the car, “I’m going to brush my hair…when we get home I want you to tell me no TV until I do my shower…oh my gosh, it’s hard to even get the brush through. Well, at least I learned my lesson!”

Back at home she looked me in the eyes, “Mom, I’m ready for my shower.” “Ok,” I said, “You can start and get the temperature the way you want and I’ll be right up.” For the last few years, I’ve been ever so slowly extracting myself from her shower routine. Lathering up her head was the only task she still expected me to do (that and wrapping her wet hair in a towel afterwards). I’d loiter outside the bathroom door until she called for me then I’d lather her up and leave—with the plan to hand this last task over to her when she turns ten next year.

clean hairI loitered as usual, reading a magazine in the hallway. Then I heard, “Mom! Which one’s the shampoo?” “The orange bottle!” I hollered back. I waited but the call never came. After several minutes I heard the water shut off and the next thing I knew she opened the door and strutted past me, hair washed and towel twisted up on her head.

“Hi mom,” she said as she went by. And that was it. Nine years of my washing her hair for her came to end on a Friday afternoon.

Whether they know it or not, kids send us powerful signals. But often we’re too distracted by our own buttons and hang-ups to get the message.

The next time trouble comes, stay quiet. Stop, look, and listen. Most likely you’ll discover there’s something else going on underneath.

Explore posts in the same categories: Weeks following: Miscellaneous

6 Comments on “Hair’em scare’em”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Oh, I love this post. Congrats to you for being soooo insightful and congrats to your babe for figuring all that stuff out on her own. So beautiful.

  2. Shalagh Says:

    Amazing. I love the part where you connected the hair and homework. Gets me thinking…… KEEP WRITING! : )

  3. Slawebb Says:

    Flockmother YOU ARE AWESOME!! YOU are amazingly aware of what is going on in your children’s life and why they are acting they way they are. YOU look deep and help find solutions! YOU are my inspiration!

    And that Charlotte, amazing girl. She so knows what she needs and whether she knows it now or not, has a mom that is there to help!

    If we ever meet, I’m going to give you a big hug for all the inspiration you give me…not that I even know what you look like, but all the same. {{{HUG}}}

  4. flockmother Says:

    Such encouraging comments – thank you!!

  5. Mir Says:

    I loved this story. I have been wondering how you might handle something, if you don’t mind my asking.

    My oldest is Charlotte’s age, and having problems in that she’s “boring.” It’s not something she’ll talk about, but she’s a shrimpy little thing, straight A’s; a quiet bookworm who goes to church, plays soccer, has mousy hair, wears glasses, etc. Her school wears a uniform and while she “plays it up” with the allowed jewelry and shoes, that’s about it. The problem is she is often overlooked, by the girls and boys. So this year we’re experiencing a lot of “tall tales.” A relative who’s visiting came all the way from Egypt, the Touch she received for her birthday is an iPhone, etc. It’s new and I can hear her screaming for someone to notice her, but I don’t know how to help.

    What would you do?

    • flockmother Says:

      Sorry for the delay! I have been thinking about your question though. Remember to focus on what you have control over — namely yourself. You can’t control how others react to your daughter, but you can scan for every opportunity to show her that she matters, and that *you* notice her. Those crucial Cs are the key: make time to connect with her every day on her terms, and when she talks, stop and really listen; treat her like she’s capable (even when it takes her ten tries to get something right); when she makes a difference for you, for the family, or for the outside world, point it out and say thank you; notice her strengths and positive character traits and take time to point those out too.

      This will help her grow confidence and self-love to handle the social ups and downs of puberty, etc. Remember, those ups and downs build resilience and empathy that will serve her the rest of her life. All you can do is nurture a strong foundation so even when she’s struggling with friends, etc., deep down she knows that she’s good enough and she counts and it will be ok.


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