As a middle-aged man with a pretty generic short-cut hairstyle, my daughter’s hair is often a daunting prospect for me. Shampooing, conditioning, drying, detangling, brushing—I’ve had to learn it all. It’s a far cry from my usual routine: a two-in-one wash that takes about 30 seconds in the shower!

The most intimidating thing I’ve had to learn—even beyond the whole hair care routine—is styling. Specifically, learning how to braid.

I used to be convinced I needed a cosmetology degree to braid my daughter’s hair! But, she wanted braids like her friends… so I had to learn. And, after hours of loose braids, knotted hair, tears (mine, not hers) and frustration, I can say with some confidence that I know how to braid my daughter’s hair!

For the other dads out there struggling to get it right, I feel your pain. Let me try and save you from making a few of the simple mistakes I did. Here’s a quick guide to braiding tips and styles I’ve picked up.

Brush and tame first!

Pro tip: Before you even attempt braiding, make sure you’re working with hair that’s brushed and detangled. The smoother her hair is, the easier it’s going to be to braid. Spend a few minutes brushing it and run your fingers through it a few times. You shouldn’t catch any snarls or tangles.

Master the basics

Alright fellas, let’s dive right in! I started with French braids and actually did fairly well with them. But, in learning I did find that a triple plait is actually easier to learn. The more you know!

Either braid style is simple enough to understand because it’s a triple braid style. The real difficulty comes in learning how tightly or loosely to braid and keeping track of which strand you’re on. In the beginning, I actually walked myself through it out loud: “left over, right over, left over, right over” and so on. It was helpful to get myself into the rhythm… and if I forgot, my daughter would lazily say “left, dad,” and I’d be right back on track!

When you’re braiding, try to keep the braid tight enough to where it’s firm, but not so tight it starts to curl. Too loose and it’ll come undone before she leaves the house; too tight and you’re going to strain her hair and tug on her scalp.

Get cute with it

It took me a while to get the basic braid down, but eventually I did. Now, I can whip out braided pigtails or a French braid pretty quickly (not perfectly!). If you’re comfortable with that, I recommend getting cute with it. Try looser braid styles or different positions. I gave my daughter a braided bun and she looked at me like I was Paul Mitchell! A small variation goes a long way.

Practice time is quality time

Getting braids down is a triumph for any single dad. It’s going to take practice, and that’s a good thing! I practiced every night for 30-45 minutes and it was more than just hair braiding—it was quality time with my daughter. I learned more about Baby Shark than I ever cared to know and turn out to be a pretty good stylist in the end!