Brushing and Tying Hair

Why is my child having trouble with doing their hair?

When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of an occupational therapist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as brushing and styling their own hair.

Hair brushing and/or styling hair in a ponytail it is actually really complicated and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first.

These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Fine motor coordination
  • Hand strength
  • Motor planning
  • Body awareness
  • Core strength
  • Upper body and shoulder strength
  • Planning and problem solving
  • Visual perceptual and acuity (Interpreting visual information)

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

  • Break the task down with your child, working on the steps one by one. For example:
    1. Practice and master brushing hair. A good tip when brushing hair is to work on brushing out the knots from the bottom first and then working up the hair.
    2. Gather the hair into a pony tail shape with the hands and smooth out the hair.
    3. Place the hair tie over the hair (you can practice with rubber bands on items first).
    4. Swap hands while holding the gathered hair
    5. Twist the hair tie and pull the hair through.
  • Practice on siblings or dolls, such as the Barbie styling heads.
  • Encourage daily practice, allow your child to do their own hair each morning once they are getting the hang of it. If they aren’t practicing regularly we can’t expect their hands to learn what to do!
  • Encourage your child to watch our YouTube video: ‘How to Tie a Pony Tail’ whilst practicing in front of the mirror:
  • Work on upper body and core strength through yoga poses, animal walks, writing on upright surfaces or writing with chalk.
  • Develop fine motor coordination and hand strength through activities such as Lego, threading and play dough.

How can an occupational therapist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with self-care skills such as hair brushing/styling or washing their hair. Occupational therapists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as brushing and styling their hair. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards hair brushing/styling may include, but are not limited to:

  • A thorough assessment to determine which parts of the task or skills necessary for the task may be difficult for your child so that these areas can be focused on. This is particularly important as often the same skill area difficulties such as body awareness difficulties may impact multiple areas of the child’s life so it is important to target this area before compensating for the difficulty. Sensory functioning can also be assessed to determine if the child’s sensitivities may be impacting their skill performance.
  • Working on hand strength and fine motor skills through play dough, Lego, threading and other activities.
  • Working on motor planning skills, core strength and shoulder stability through obstacle courses, animal walks, yoga poses etc.
  • Breaking down the task of brushing and styling the hair into simple steps, ensuring to master each step before moving on to the next.
  • Prompting (such as hand over hand assistance) and eventually reducing prompting over time.
  • Brainstorming and suggesting modifications such as using different hair ties or brushes.

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