Curls For Little Girls – A Tutorial


People often comment on my girls’ hair and say, “Oh, I wish my daughter had hair like that!” or “I wish I had hair like that!”

Here’s a secret: it’s very possible to bring out the natural curl in almost anybody’s hair.

When I was little, I had some wayward waves and a few cowlicks that we tried to hide in my Dorothy Hamill haircut. I wish someone had known how to baby my curls a little bit and give them the care they needed. Once I finally embraced my curly side as an adult, I’ve learned that curls are much more low maintenance than you think, even on little girls.

  • You don’t have to wash curly hair as often.
  • Curls are very forgiving style-wise. Give ’em a little fluff, maybe spray them with some watered-down conditioner and they look lovely. They are perfectly imperfect.
  • Less hair-brushing required.

I began coaxing the wave into my girls’ hair just as soon as I saw the first “flip” up of a tuft of baby hair. I immediately switched to baby conditioner ONLY. This is key. Curls need moisture. Otherwise they’re shy. So we have a strict NO SHAMPOO policy around here for all of our ladies.


Over time, the more moisture those baby waves received, the curlier they became. And slowly, through some years of growing and moisturizing, we turned cowlicks into sweet little girl curls.


Now, I’m not guaranteeing you a head full of curls, but I am encouraging you to give this a try if you’ve seen the slightest hint of a wave in your little girl’s hair. You might be surprised at the results.

(An Aside: We follow a similar procedure for Mira’s 4a curls, but I am not ready to claim any sort of authority on that yet. The same rules apply: Moisture, moisture, moisture!)


Since you don’t really brush curly hair unless it’s lathered up with conditioner, it can get tangly. Especially if you’re like me and wait a long time between hair washings because, quite frankly, life is busy. And curly hair in a pony tail is cute no matter how dirty it is.

My best friend for in-between washings (to freshen curls, just spray it on and go) and to pre-treat tangles is this:


You can achieve the same effect by just adding water to conditioner and putting it in a spray bottle. Make sure the finished mixture feels slippery on your fingers. You want it to create the slip on the curls. Too watery and it will just be… wet.

On washing days, I spray this on any especially gnarly little tangles while the hair is dry and then throw all the girls in the shower.

We wet the hair thoroughly and then I add a round of conditioner. You want to condition the hair first so the hair has as long as possible to soak up the moisture. I started with this much conditioner for Willa, but quickly added a bit more. Her hair is short and thinner.


Ellen needed about twice this. Take that conditioner and try and coat all of the hair from root to tip. Focus especially on the worst knots. But you want the whole thing to be covered in conditioner.

With Willa’s thinner hair, the conditioner is already on the scalp and I just scrub that around all over with my finger tips to make sure her scalp gets nicely cleaned. (There’s plenty of surfectant/soap in conditioner to clean the hair without drying it out like shampoo.) Ellen’s hair is thicker and I had to put another batch of conditioner in my hand and then add it to her scalp in sections, lifting the hair scrubbing her scalp.

The key is that the original coating of conditioner means you can actually find the scalp to scrub it. If you just condition the ends of the hair without getting to the scalp, you don’t moisturize the hair that’s growing and it will continue to stay dry and not as curly.


Now that the scrubbing is over, just leave the conditioner to soak into the hair until the very end of the shower or bath. My favorite tool for tackling the tough tangles is this:


To brush out the hair, start at the tips with your wide-tooth comb or tangle teezer. Brush small sections in small strokes and as you work the tangles out, work your way up the hair to the root. Because you’ve got the hair nice and slimy, you can do this fairly quickly in un-tangled spots and you won’t damage the hair follicle as you comb. Curly hair should never be brushed without moisture on it or you will damage the hair and damage your curl.

Now onto the tangles…

I tell my girls I found a rat’s nest in their hair and I need to work on it. Then I grab the gnarly section and set to work.

You follow the same basic procedure as before, work from the tip up to the root. Ellen is especially tender-headed, so I try to grab the hair firmly in front of the root as I pull the tangle out to protect her scalp.


She’s convinced she saw the shadow of the rat run out of her hair in the shower tonight. And I’m content to let her believe it if it means she’ll let me get the “nest” out.

When you’re done, the strands will be shiny and happy.


After the girls have soaped up, we rinse their hair at the very end. I don’t rub their hair dry with the towel. I only use the towel to gently lift the curls and soak up the drips. I lay the towel over their head and press down firmly. Then I put a little bit of gel in my hands. For Willa, it’s this much:


And this much for Ellen:


I smear the gel around in my hands and then grab the hair at the bottom and push up with my palms as I scrunch with my fingertips.


Just takes a few seconds and then you’re done. Let it air dry (you can use a diffuser if you must, but honestly, it’s better to just bundle them up in warm jammies if they’re cold and avoid the blow dryer.)

Best case scenario, at night you would put it up high on the head in a scrunchee (normal pony tail holders will damage the follicle) and let them sleep on a satin pillowcase. That doesn’t really happen in my house but if you can swing it, you should.

It takes time to get hair moisturized properly and get those curls to form. You may not see quick results. But if you stick with it, in a few weeks, you’ll notice a difference. And the results are super cute, don’t you think?


This is her beach hair, unwashed for days, in and out of the ocean and the pool. See? LOW MAINTENANCE!!

Got any more curly girl tips for me? Leave ’em in the comments!

And don’t forget to link up with the Parent’hood, too!



  1. I LOVE this post. Thank you, LL! All three of your girls have beautiful curls. Georgia has loose curls, and we have such a time with tangles, etc. I’m trying your advice immediately! 🙂
    Also, I’d love to hear what products you use on your own curly hair…

  2. THANK YOU! My girls have a bit of wave/curl when their hair is wet, but it doesn’t stick around… and we always brush out their hair and dry it. I have curly hair though and I’d love for their hair to be curly too. Best of all, they would LOVE to have curly hair like their mama. I’m going to give this a try!

  3. I’ve never heard of this tip but it makes sense- I use a mousse with leave in conditioner for my curls. Ironically, I got the tip from my daughter. 🙂

  4. So you NEVER use shampoo? My littlest has half-wavy, half-curly hair, and for a while I was trying to enhance the curl by only shampooing once in a while, conditioning regularly, using a conditioner/water spray on her daily, and never brushing. It resulted in horrible dry scalp from never having the scalp massaged with a brush, and her head almost always stank from dirty hair. Now I treat it just like her older sister’s: wash with shampoo and conditioner every few days, comb when wet, brush when dry. It doesn’t curl as much, but no more itchy/stinky/flaky scalp. Was I just doing it wrong before?

  5. Louise- hmm. Were you getting the conditioner all the way to the scalp and scrubbing it in vigorously? I literally use several handfuls of conditioner on my own hair, moving systematically around my head until I’m sure I’ve scrubbed every inch of my scalp. That should clean and moisturize it sufficiently. You can wash it more often with conditioner only and see if that makes a difference. Good luck! Send me an update!

  6. I use a similar system for my girls, except that I do use shampoo. I guess I thought that I needed to. I think I’m going to try to skip it and see how that works for us.
    After (infrequent) baths, I put a a gel/cream blend in their hair. It seems to work really well to enhance the curl without leaving it crunchy like straight gel used to.

  7. What brand of gel do you use? Thanks for the tips!

  8. Lauren – For my littles, I like to use Aubrey organics. But I am out of that right now, so I used the Redken Curl Creme 14 that I use on my own hair.


  10. I’m curious to see how this would work on someone who’s going through puberty. I can skip days (or longer) without washing my hair now, and I can see doing it with little kids, but I recall that in my tween hormone-laden years my hair looked like it needed to be washed EVERY day.

  11. Jill- I guess it depends on the hair. I have read, though, that over washing makes hair more oily because it dries it out so your scalp produces more oil for moisture. In theory, by giving the scalp proper moisture (or avoiding shampoo), the scalp would need to make less oil and be more balanced.

  12. Woman!! Thank you so much for this tutorial!!

    I have been dying. Charis’s hair is got waves to them. But they are a tangly mess and so nasty. I don’t wash her hair often but it’s so stringy too that I thought I should. Well, I will give this a go! So excited!!


  13. Elizabeth says:

    Do you read Chocolate hair Vanilla Care for Mira? Great website and FB page for “Vanilla” families taking care of “chocolate” hair. She is amazing with her little girls hair. I have a boy but the maintenance still applies and her hair do’s are so impressive!

  14. Su-per super cute!

  15. My daughters hair is stick straight, but mine has curl so excited to change my hair from occasional curl to actually curly!!! Hoping it will work on 36 year old hair!!!

  16. SO MUCH GOOD INFO! I’ve slowly started to do all of this for my Teyla, too. Who knew curly hair was so different? (Said the lady who’s hair is so straight, it won’t even stay curled for a wedding an hour later. With a bottle of Aqua-Net.)

    I’m going to have to get the brush you show and the gel for the end. That’s the one step I’m not doing right now. Do you have links you can post?

  17. Kelly – The links are right above the pictures for the tools and I didn’t link to the gel. Not sure that matters as much as just using lots of conditioner. Good luck!

  18. Donna – Good luck!

  19. For all* hair, not just curly hair, do not be tempted to run a comb or brush through it just to see if there’s a tangle. There will be, once you do that. Resist the urge, and start at the ends. Comb them out, then move up an inch or two and comb again. By the time you reach the scalp there will have been no rats nests, not even any bad tangles. I wish it hadn’t taken me so many years to figure that out.

    *I refer only to non-African hair. Of hair like Mira’s, I know nothing.

  20. Love this post, going to try this comb with my girls, and lots of condtioner!


  21. Thanks, Lora. I am learning to nurture the curls I have gained after birthing four babies. I’ve been following Curly Girl principles for the last year and a half, but I’ve been looking for a good organic conditioner and a good gel. I might have to try the principles on my girls, my oldest would love to have curls.

  22. We love the Tangle Teaser at our house, too! But I only recently heard about the no-poo for curls, with conditioner only. I had no idea that “vanilla” girls did that too! Thanks so much for sharing your care of curls with us!

  23. Will this work on my adult hair? I have some wave but would love it to have more curls.


  24. Monstergirlee – Yes, the general principles of washing will definitely work. I do the same thing to my own hair. Here’s more info on my own hair journey:

    After washing, I pull Redken Crema Care Daily Nourishing Styling Treatment through my curls (with my head hung over). Then I wring out more water and add Redken Curl Wise 14. I pull it through once, then scrunch until it’s all off my hands. Then I flip my hair back up and let it dry. This seems to work well for my particular head of hair. You may not require as much product. The best recommendation I can make though is to encourage the curl with moisture. No shampoo, just conditioner!

  25. My 3 yr old has extremely curly blonde ringlets. My question is about conditioners. I’m trying to find her a good one that doesn’t smell too grown up- does the lavender scent of the Avalon brand you picture here smell like a sweet lavender or is it pungent and mature smelling? Are there other organic brands you like?

  26. Lilly – I don’t find the Avalon over powering. But then I’ve not every thought about it too much. It doesn’t make them smell “herbal” if that’s what you mean.

  27. My daughter has hair like your daughter! We condition daily and *only* comb hair when soaking wet! I love it, hoping my younger daughter end ups with the same type of curls!

  28. Love this post!
    I have a four year old daughter, she has straight hair, with a hint of a wave in it. It is very thin, but she has a LOT of it! When she was a baby, her hair started to grow with a tiny bit of curl in it, but over the years, the weight of her hair has devoured her curl. I’ve been trying your technique for about 5 days now….but her hair is just looking limp and flat. I’ve done everything you said, including using all the same products. Should I give it more time? Do you think I’m doing anything wrong? Should I try encouraging her curl by putting some curlers in there too?
    Perhaps it just won’t work for us. I’d love to send you a picture of her hair, to get your oppinion.

  29. I love this! I have a 4 month old with lots of long hair– about 2-3″ (you’d have to see it to believe it). We’ve seen a few flips & a little wave, but mostly just 2 large cowlicks! How young do you think I could try this on her? I can’t wait to try this method myself!

  30. Lora Lynn Fanning says:

    Dani – I think it would work just fine on a baby. I never really used shampoo on my babies with curly hair. Just find a conditioner that’s safe for babies and you’re good! Enjoy!

  31. LL, I searched pinterest today for curly haired tips for my oldest and this post was first to come up! I’ve never really treated his hair any different than I would my own straight hair but lately I’ve noticed more tangles and not as much curl. I took down some notes and hopefully in the next week or two, his curls will be healthier! Thanks for the tips!

  32. I was wondering what gel you use? Thanks!

  33. Lora Lynn Fanning says:

    Whatever I have on hand! Usually redken #12.

  34. Thank you for this. I live on the mission feild with my family were we are rasing little once abanded kids. Which is my life. We have a real curly head that just turned two and the girls are getting a mess on me. So I am excited to use your tips here in her hair. As well as mine as I have mediam wavey hair.


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