If there are two things that typically do not go together, it’s small kids and haircuts. Some little ones get hysterical or throw tantrums during haircuts between the ages of 12 months and 2 years old, typically little boys get more worked up than girls. Some kids get hysterical to the point that I’ve wondered if it really does hurt them on some level. Unfamiliar people, tools, and materials combined with a stranger touching them and spraying them with water don’t always go over well with your toddler.

How to Get Your Toddler's Haircut: Familiarize Your Child with a Salon
Photo by Adam Crowley/Getty Images

I’m a seasoned professional in the toddler hair cutting arena, and I’ll tell you it can be a real challenge, especially with boys. Why are boys harder? I have a few theories. Boys tend to get their first haircuts before the age of eighteen months, and girls are typically a little older than that before they sit in the chair for the first time. It’s easier when they are a little older and can handle unfamiliar situations better. Girls also experience having their hair combed, played with, tied up, and handled far more often than boys. These tips can help you get through the struggles of first haircuts.

Find the Right Stylist

The first step in getting a decent haircut for your little one is to find a stylist that is great with kids. Kids wiggle, kick, drool, fidget, and cry when they hate getting their haircut. Not every stylist is going to handle a situation like that very well. As you can imagine, it can be incredibly stressful. Before you schedule an appointment for your child, even with your regular hairstylist, ask if they are okay with cutting a small child’s hair. Some salons cater to children, and others do not.

Familiarize Your Child with a Salon

Make the first trip to the salon a casual one. Go in to pick up shampoo, get a haircut for one of your older children, or schedule an appointment in person. This way, when it’s time for that appointment, your little one will not have to walk into a new place for the first time unfamiliar. Also, just like you’ll talk to your child prior to visiting the dentist about the way things will happen, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your child about the salon. Talk about combs, scissors, and trimmers and explain that getting a haircut does not hurt. Spend a little extra time combing your child’s hair in the days and weeks leading up the appointment, especially if their hair does not get combed very often. Let your little one handle a comb and try spraying their hair with water.

Let Your Stylist Be the Boss

When you enter the salon and begin your toddler’s appointment, my experience has found that when the stylist is in charge, the kids respond better. Sometimes it’s helpful to have the child sit on a parent’s lap, but more often, having the child sit independently (if at all possible) provides for a better experience. Let the stylist lead the charge by inviting your child to sit down and put the cape on. I try to let the children in my chair touch the comb, clippers, cape, and towels, so they feel that they are a part of the experience and aren’t afraid of the items that are about to touch them.

How to Get Your Toddler's Haircut: Stay Consistent
Photo by Cohen/Ostrow/Getty Images

The Art of Bribery

Bribing a child to behave in at the salon can be helpful, but it’s important to be strategic about the bribe—especially bribery via snacks. Food and haircuts can be a pretty gross combination; open mouth, insert hair. Ick. If possible, use bribery sparingly and try a promise of a toy or an experience rather than food, or (when a treat is the only way to get through) allow the snack after the haircut is completed.

Of course, it’s not a perfect world, and for some kids, a lollipop or treat during a haircut can mean the difference between heaven and hell for the duration of the experience. Have one in your pocket before the appointment, just in case.

Create a Diversion

Often with small children, distraction is necessary to get through a haircut. I’ve found that stickers and videos are wonderful distractions and work the best to get a child through that haircut the best. See if your stylist has a television or tablet available for kids to preoccupy them during the appointment, and if not, bring your tablet or phone with a favorite video or game. Some of my smallest clients do better when mom sings their favorite song or reads a book as well.

Bring a Change of Clothes

Kids often associate being itchy and uncomfortable with a haircut, and even though a superhero cape is the coolest thing ever, for some reason, hair cutting capes aren’t always as cool. If your child refuses to wear the cape, or even if he does not refuse, sometimes a change of clothes to get those tiny itchy hairs away from their skin can make all the difference in the world for your child’s haircut experience.

Change Your Terminology

I’ve not found myself inside a child’s head in many years, but it seems to me that calling it a hair “cut” might be a little terrifying for a kid. Perhaps that’s why they feel like pain may be associated with the experience. Try saying, “Let’s go see Brenda and get your hair trimmed,” instead.

I’ve also found that kids like their egos stroked, so sometimes building up the experience with phrases like, “You are going to look so handsome after your appointment with Brenda,” can ease a child’s mind.

Stay Consistent

It’s especially helpful to continue to see the same stylist, or at the very least, go to the same salon for your child’s haircuts. This way, every experience becomes more familiar than the last, and consistencies like rewards for a job well-done make sense to the child. Walking into a new place for every haircut will often lead to the same meltdowns time and time again.

As an adult, and as a parent, it’s hard to understand why something as simple as a haircut is so incredibly devastating for some children. I always remind parents that the last haircut is always the hardest. It typically gets a little better each time, and by the age of two, most kids have outgrown the haircut meltdowns.

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