The Dreaded Haircut


If the thought of giving your child a haircut fills you with immense dread and loathing, then this post is for you. And you’re not alone. Pulling off a haircut that doesn’t end up looking like a lawn mower attacked, while wrestling a screaming child who is resisting your every effort with herculean strength, is no small feat. And we hear you. Typical children and children with special needs alike, often struggle. Here are our top tips to help you regain your sanity and turn the dreaded haircut into a more positive experience.

Start as you mean to go on.

From the very first haircut at an early age, do everything you can to make them go as smoothly and painlessly as possible. This will pay dividends moving forward, since your child won’t head for the hills screaming in a state of panic as soon as he even sees the clippers come out. Bad memories of haircuts gone by can start the battle before it has even begun. If you don’t have the luxury of starting from the beginning because haircuts have already gained a bad momentum of their own, have no fear. Using these tips moving forward can help push the reset button.

Prepare your child for what’s coming.

Nothing is scarier than being blind sided. Make sure your child knows what haircuts are all about, long before the actual haircut, and you’ll have better success. Make sure your child has chances to hold and feel the clippers, and hear what they sound like when it’s not their day for a haircut. Let your child watch you or siblings get a successful haircut, so they learn about the process. Let him use scissors to cut a doll’s hair. Or draw pictures of getting a haircut. Talk about the experience, answer questions, and help them process the events in advance.

Reading or watching social stories online can help, too. Social stories are step by step guides that illustrate an experience, and familiarize the child with each step in a process or event. Check out the catalog of social stories HERE.

Follow your child’s lead.

Use what you know about your child, what your child is telling you, and past experience to guide how to set up and carry out a haircut in the best possible way. Each child is different, so not all of the following tips will work for every child. For instance, some kids may do better with a haircut cape that keeps itchy hair off their skin, but some may hate the way a cape feels and fight tooth and nail over just wearing the cape. Some kids may do great getting a cut in front of the mirror so they feel more like they know what’s happening, but for some it may cause panic when they can see the clippers coming or hair falling. You’ll need to try a few things to finally land on what will work best for your child and their particular needs and concerns.

Timing is Everything.

Do the haircut at a time of day when both you and your child are freshest-don’t wait until you or they are worn out or need a nap or are already on the verge of a meltdown, to make your attack. If your child is calmest or has the most patience after a good night’s sleep, plan the haircut for the morning. If you are frazzled by the events of the day, save the haircut till tomorrow. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt by scheduling or doing the haircut when you’re both at your best.

Don’t force it.

For many children, haircuts are scary. And for kids with sensory issues, haircuts can literally be painful (an occupational therapist can help). Having you, someone they trust, hold them down and force a haircut makes it all the more scary. And it can be damaging to your relationship. If your child knows they can trust you, that you or the barber won’t keep cutting longer than they can handle, then you will get farther. The extra time and patience are worth it. The kids who fight the hardest are the ones who know you won’t listen to them when they’ve had enough, and that you’ll get the haircut done at all costs.

Cut your losses.

If haircuts are a battle, then battle less often. Forget having the perfectly manicured hairdo. Don’t waste your time fighting to get perfection in a cut, or cutting the hair more frequently just because you want their hair shorter. Let good enough be good enough. And let your child’s hair grow longer between haircuts. Sometimes the longer the hair gets, the more irritating it is to the child because they don’t like it on their ears, or it falls in their face and eyes. A child that sees the value in a haircut is more likely to be a willing participant. When you do cut the hair, cut it short. A buzz cut can be your best friend: easier to administer with a squirmy child, easier to upkeep, and fewer haircuts needed in total throughout the year.

Location, location, location.

Weigh your options and choose a location for the cut that optimizes success. Doing haircuts at home offers a lot of advantages. At home you have more tools for distraction at your disposal, there’s no hurry, no added stress from the barber or onlookers when it isn’t going well, you can take breaks and spend all day pecking away at it, and well, haircuts at home are free. No sense in paying for a difficult experience if you don’t have to! Of course, if you find a barber that can do the job well without a fight, or having someone else do the haircut preserves your own relationship with your child, then by all means, employ a barber…and tip that person well! Give the barbershop a heads up that your child struggles with haircuts and ask for the best barber they have. If you find someone who works well with your child, go to that person religiously. Prepare the barber by having a conversation before you begin about what your child likes or does not like. And go for a cut when the barber shop isn’t busy and pressed for time to get your child’s cut done.

Have the right tools.

Having the right tools can make all the difference for a haircut. For kids that don’t like the feel of hair falling on them, buy a cheap cape. You can pick one up on Amazon for less than $5. If your child doesn’t like a cape, wear a second shirt that you can just take off your child and shake out when you’re done. A cape or extra shirt can buy you critical time to get the job done and prevent a meltdown over the first swatch of falling hair. Second, decide between scissors and clippers. Clippers are faster, and safer, but many kids, especially with sensory issues, can’t stand the loud buzz right in their ears. To preserve the benefits of clippers but reduce the sound irritation, pick up a pair of low vibration/quiet clippers (see link HERE afflink). For most kids, quiet clippers really are a must have, and will be the best money you ever spent. Ear plugs may also help. If a weighted lap pad or holding a favorite comfort item would help your child, bring them along to your appointment as well.

Distract to win.

Distraction is your best friend. Save watching that movie your child has been dying to watch, for haircut day. Having something to hold with both hands, like a tablet, will also mean fewer opportunities to swat or flail. Get your child engaged in a high impact part of the movie, or que up their favorite app before you begin. Let them hold their favorite doll or toy or blankie. Dance, sing, make silly faces or noises, do whatever you have to do to keep hands busy and attention riveted. A second person is particularly useful for the job of distraction, if you’re giving the haircut yourself.

Take easy victories first.

Have a plan of attack before you begin. Cut areas most palatable to the child, first. For many, that means starting in the back. Starting in the front where hair will immediately get on their face and in their eyes, and where you draw their attention immediately to this crazy buzzing thing, won’t help you. Buzzing clippers around ears can also be immediately off putting. Knock out the low impact areas first. Initially, plan to be happy with good enough, and just getting a basic cut done. You can go back later and fine tune if you’re doing well. But if all heck breaks loose after you spent ten minutes carefully and painstakingly detailing the back, you’re sunk. Even on a good day, your child will only be distracted or submit to holding still for so long. Don’t use up all your capital grooming a single area.

Take breaks and do count downs.

We can all do things we don’t like if we know there is an end to the pain in sight. Tell your child you will cut their hair for ten seconds and then you will stop. Count out loud, and when you get to ten: STOP. If you don’t stop when you say you will, this tactic will never work-the child quickly learns they can’t trust you, so cooperating profits them nothing. Stop after ten seconds (or sooner if they are struggling) and give them a break, a reward or treat, and plenty of praise. Let them recollect for just a moment (not too long or the wiggles will set in) before you start again. If you feel them reaching their limit, stop the haircut all together. The key is to stop as soon as they’re struggling. Otherwise you risk very negative emotions and associations that will make your next haircut even harder. Your child needs to know they can trust you, and that if they are uncomfortable, you will always stop. Does that mean the haircut may be in three second bursts and take an hour or an entire day to complete? Maybe. But it’s worth it. And it’ll get easier every time that you don’t scar them getting it done.

Bribery works.

If telling your child they can pick out anything they want at the Dollar Store works, do it (and don’t forget!). Or, let them open one wrapped little item from the Dollar store every minute or two during the cut (wrap each item with several layers to draw the opening out). Tell your child you’ll take them to the zoo or for an ice cream when it’s all done, so that they can associate something positive with a difficult experience. But do not hold the reward prisoner for good behavior. Even if they cry, they get a reward for enduring. Nothing is worse than being sensorally overloaded and feeling like you’re being attacked, AND you don’t get the prized possession or outing that you set your heart on. Don’t do it. Whether the haircut goes good, or goes bad quickly and you have to stop, find something to praise. And give the reward.

Praise and give choices.

We’re all doing the best we can. So are kids. It’s not their fault they don’t like the haircut any more than it’s my fault that I hate mushrooms or the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard. Haircuts are annoying. And itchy. And some kids have sensory issues that mean a haircut is literally painful, or have special needs making it harder for them to cope. It’s easy to get frustrated, but try to keep things positive. Kids can feel and will feed off your stress. Tell them they’re doing great and you’re proud of them.

Give choices as much as you can, so the child can feel they have some role in the haircut and control over what’s happening to them. Cape or no cape? Haircut outside or in? Clippers or scissors? Wipe down your hair with a wet towel or spray it down? What toy would you like to have with you for the cut? Who would you like to bring with you? Blow loose hair off or use a brush? You will learn a lot about how to make the next haircut more palatable by offering choices and learning about their preferences.

Get creative.

If all else fails, think outside of the box. Cut your child’s hair while they’re sleeping. Do one pass of the clippers every day so that a haircut never lasts more than a minute. Give them a bowl of candy in individual wrappers that take time to open, and tell them they can keep eating as long as you’re cutting. If not devastating to the overall cut and your child would prefer it, you can even try letting your child wield the clippers on their own hair.

Be prepared. Be patient. Haircuts get easier. ©

Have a haircut tip to add to the list? Leave a comment with your ideas.


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One thought on “The Dreaded Haircut

  1. Wow, thank you for sharing this helpful information. My child will soon have his first haircut and I’ve been doing some reading and it’s good the I came across to your blog. I will follow your tips and hopefully it will turn out good.


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