I Dyed My 4-Year-Old’s Hair

by Ashley Alteman
Originally Published: 
A smiling 4-year-old peeking from behind a tree with hair dyed pink

I don’t remember the exact age I was as a child when the feeling of not measuring up to my classmates started.

The feelings of not fitting in with the “cool crowd,” or being self-conscious of my freckles and what many called “my big ears.” I was ashamed of certain parts of who I was because of what others said about me, whether to my face, or behind my back.

“Someone called you a freckled monkey on the playground today at recess!”

“Wow, your ears are so big, you look just like Dumbo!”

I believe those childhood comments to are somewhat normal to a certain degree. If you are a parent who is reading this, I am sure that you can relate on some level—unless you were a member of the “cool crowd” that no one messed with. If you were one of the “cool kids,” I hope you weren’t an asshole to the ones who were a bit awkward in their elementary years.

I was not one of the “cool kids.” I was the girl who was teased in elementary school, and the one who helped classmates search for their retainers in the sand below the swing-set so their mothers’ wouldn’t ream them for losing their pricey, rainbow orthodontia.

I grew up and made my own group of friends who loved and accepted me for who I was. I had my own little gaggle of friends, and as the years went on, the negative comments from early grade school escaped me and I grew into a confident young woman.

However, what I didn’t realize back then was that I would go through it all over again when I became a parent. That isn’t something that you think about when you become pregnant with your first child, no thoughts of Hm, I wonder what my kid will be made fun of for, or the nasty things kids will mutter in her direction?

My daughter was 4-years-old when she sat at her first school lunch table. She had a class size of roughly seven, and only three were girls, thus creating the dreaded “girl triangle.” We’re all familiar with the girl triangle. Three females always seem to lead to some sort of diffusion in friendships, apparently at any age.

Slowly, the dreaded girl triangle took it’s toll:

“Sara and Emily called my picture ugly today!”

“Emily said that my shoes don’t sparkle the same as hers!”

Naturally, I diffused the situations as we parents do. I reminded her that each of us is our own artist and that clearly, little Emily needed her fucking eyes checked. I may have omitted the last part.

However, as the year went on, it became increasingly painful. Every day at pick-up, it was something new, a new problem, a new mean-spirited comment. It was exhausting.

She began emulating her friends; her favorite color was now little Sara’s favorite color, she wanted to purchase the same shoes that the other two wore, wanted a purple wardrobe because “Emily had all purple clothes.” I had to put an end to the madness.

On one particularly trying afternoon, I asked my young one, “Alright, what would make you feel more like you? You need to stop focusing so much on what your friends are doing, and rather, focus on the things that make you…you. So, what will it be? Shall we paint your nails your favorite color? Do you want to start a new activity that you are interested in? How about dance? You love to dance!” I asked my little follower.

“No. I want to dye my hair,” she responded.

That wasn’t quite where I anticipated the conversation going, however, I was so over it, I didn’t care.

I asked her if that would truly make her feel more like herself. She confirmed and told me she would feel more “like herself” if her favorite colors were incorporated into her hairstyle.

So, after running it by my husband, off we went. We picked up hair bleach, and two different shades of Manic Panic: fluorescent teal and pink.

We sat down that evening and I went over it one more time: “This will be permanent. The color may not stay, however, the blonde streak will be very permanent for at least the next year or two—unless you have plans to shave your head.”

My little 4-year-old was adamant this was what she wanted, and we went for it. I divided her beautiful stands of brown hair and carefully bleached a two-inch section. We washed it out after 45 minutes, dried it, and then placed the Manic Panic. Before we knew it, our child had a sassy hairstyle and she was loving it. At that time, it was what she needed.

©Ashley Alteman

Was it a bit drastic? Yes.

However, I saw a small shift in her personality. Naturally, her friends noticed her new hairdo, and I am quite certain a few of the staff members from her school did, too.

But you know what? I didn’t care. It’s fucking hair. Life is short and so is the permanence of a hairstyle. It gave her a boost in confidence and a little pep in her step, which, as her mother, I knew she needed in that moment.

This was 3 years ago and she’s now 7. I am certain that many frowned upon our choice as parents to dye our 4-year-old’s hair; my own mother was furious. But quickly, my mom became acclimated as she saw this was something that lifted her granddaughter’s spirit.

In a weird way, it gave my daughter something that made her feel unique; it allowed her to see that she could be herself, and more importantly, that any version of herself was pretty great. It was a stepping stone that ultimately led her to the comfort of self-expression in other ways. Sure, we could have read a book about how special we are in our own way, but we didn’t, we dyed her hair.

Over the years, we’ve re-bleached the same portion of hair and added different colors to the mix, and sometimes, she just lets the blonde streak ride. It’s something that has become part of who she is, and she likes it.

You do the best you can and you make choices you feel are best for your children. I allow my little girl to roam a bit in her life. I’m likely not going to take her to the tattoo parlor to get the Barbie tattoo she’s asked to have tattooed to her bicep, but honestly, my husband and I thought: “What’s a little hair color?”

I’ve come to the conclusion that parenting is just as big of a struggle as childhood is, but we try our best. We try our best to remind them of their worth, value and individuality. Somedays are better than others, somedays are totally doozies, and some days we succeed, even if it’s just with a bottle of hair dye.

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