Haircuts in children tend to be driven by necessity and practicality (hello lockdown locks!) rather than personal expression. When the time for a haircut does roll around it can be a great source of stress for all involved. Children who are overly sensitive to sound or touch can find haircuts very unpleasant. For these children, sensations such as hair falling on their face, the sound of clippers, and the plasticky cape, are magnified and can cause distress. Other children may dislike haircuts due to bad past experiences, concerns about their appearance, or worries about social interactions.
Although you may be tempted to ‘cancel’ haircuts all together, the best way to help your child get used to them is through graded exposure. This means gradually exposing your child to the feared situation (or object) in small steps. To sweeten the deal, reward your child for doing each step. Most kids love getting extra 1:1 time with parents, or the chance to request their favourite meal. Just make sure they can remain calm at each step before moving onto the next.
To keep the plan clear, create a poster or visual with the goal, each step, and the accompanying rewards. Your child may even want to help decorate it! Initially the goal might be for the child to sit in the hairdresser’s chair for two minutes. Once this has been achieved, you might then progress to the actual haircut.
Some other strategies to try are:
- Using social stories
- Taking a transition/comfort object
- Scheduling the appointment with the same person each time
- Booking appointments during quiet times
- Keeping the child’s haircut simple and consistent
- Having the child’s hair cut at home
Yvette Zevon is a psychologist based at The Northern Centre for Child Development, who is completing the registrar program in educational and developmental psychology. She is passionate about working with young people and families and is grateful for the daily opportunities to express her playful side.