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Hair Brushing Tips for Children with Sensory Processing Challenges

Many children who have sensory processing challenges, especially if they are sensitive to touch, find it difficult to cope with having their hair brushed. Below is a list of some strategies and techniques that can be used to assist in making hair brushing less stressful and more of a pleasurable activity for both child and parent! ---

  • Massage the head/scalp slowly and with deep input to decrease sensitivity.
  • Have the child brush their hair with a mirror so they can see themselves brushing. This gives them visual feedback and can give them a better sense of control.
  • Practice hair brushing on mom or dad, siblings (supervised) or on stuffed animals.
  • Have the child sit in a comfortable chair or other comfortable space when brushing the hair.
  • Make sure when the child is engaged in hair brushing, that they are in a safe place or a place that they don’t associate as a negative location (if they don’t like the bathroom, don’t brush their hair in there).
  • Try having the child sit in mom or dad's lap to help them feel more secure and safe while having their hair brushed.
  • Use tangle-free conditioner when washing the hair.

Experiment with different types of brushes

Wet Brush:

  • Minimizes breakage and pain when brushing hair
  • Gently loosens knots without pulling or breaking hair
  • Meant to be used when hair is wet

Synthetic Bristle Brush:

  • Best for super thick hair
  • Don’t create as much static and stiffer bristles make it easier to detangle hair

Natural Bristle Brush:

  • Super soft and help distribute the hair’s natural oils
  • Gentle on delicate strands

Mixed Bristle Brush:

  • Work well on everyone’s hair
  • Good at doing everything such as making hair shiny and detangling hair

Paddle Brush:

  • Usually have bristles coming out of a soft cushion and are great for massaging the scalp and detangling hair.

Vented Brush:

  • Used when blow drying hair

Round Brush:

  • Some round brushes work to massage the scalp and stimulate hair follicles, which can help decrease sensitivity to hair brushing

Wide Tooth Comb:

  • Detangles knots without tearing at your hair

  • Stop hair brushing if the child starts becoming significantly distressed and don’t prolong the task.

  • If the child has significant tactile defensiveness to hair brushing, first start with them holding the brush. Then have them rub the back of the brush on the head. Next, have them brush the arms or other parts of the body and slowly work up to brushing the hair.

Written by: Brittany Innes, MS, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist

References:

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (2017). Sensory – hair brushing [PDF file]. Retrieved from http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/documents/861/sensory - hair brushing.pdf

Hair Brushing Tips for Children with Sensory Processing Challenges
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