Turns out a tear-free trip to the salon is possible—even if it’s baby’s first haircut
Whether it’s baby’s first haircut or their 15th trip to the salon chair, some kids just don’t want to get a haircut. Jillian Gibson, a co-owner of KidSnips, a family-friendly hair salon with locations throughout Chicago, who has been a children’s hair stylist for 25 years, understands that fear, sensory issues, social anxiety, and trauma from past visits can lead to continued bad experiences with routine haircuts. “We’ve had kids come to us who’ve previously been nipped during their cut or sometimes they’ve had stylists who weren’t kid-friendly and not patient when they started crying,” Gibson says. “Now, the child is terrified. I’ve found a couple things that have consistently helped to reassure them that it’s going to be OK.” She shared her nine go-to tips and techniques for a positive experience—and, fingers crossed—a great haircut.
1. Don’t Get too Confident After the First Visit
One of the most common missteps Gibson has seen is with parents after the very first cut. “A lot of times with first haircuts, the anxiety is more on the parent than the child,” she says. “Kids don’t really know what’s happening.” So, when it goes well, parents breathe a sigh of relief. Cue the second appointment, and the child “just loses their mind” because they recall something they didn’t like about the initial visit. It’s a good reminder to pay attention to your child’s needs, even if they aren’t vocalizing them.
2. Tweak Your Language
From the first conversations you have with your child about a haircut, reconsider your vocabulary. “Why in the world do we call it a hair cut?” Gibson noted. “The word cut means you get hurt! We try to use words like, ‘you’re going to get your hair styled, or trimmed, or get your hair done.’” She also suggested reminding kids that hair doesn’t have feelings, and like fingernails, you can cut them without pain.
3. Play Stylist at Home
Like a story, walk your child through every single step of the salon experience in the comfort of your home. “Tell them, ‘You’re going to sit in a chair, and she’s going to put a cape on you, and she’s going to spritz some water on your hair,’ and so on,” Gibson says. She has even had parents borrow one of our capes and a comb to role play with in front of the bathroom mirror. “They put the cape on and comb the hair, just to help familiarize them with what’s happening.”
4. Read Books About Getting Haircuts
Gibson’s salons have storyboards that children can leaf through that show photos of kids getting their haircuts, but this prep work can actually start at bedtime, with a story all about the haircut journey. A crowd-pleaser (and a great book to read before baby’s first haircut especiallly)? I’m Not Scared No Way: I’m Getting a Haircut Today by Kimberly Pattison. This beautifully illustrated picture book also includes a keepsake certificate for their first haircut at the end of the book along with a place to save a lock of the child’s hair.
5. Take a Field Trip to the Salon
Take your kiddo for a preview of the salon, a few days in advance of the actual appointment. ”Come in, look around, watch other kids get their haircuts, and make it a fun experience,” Gibson says. “Get a feel for what’s going to happen.” If a dress rehearsal isn’t possible, Gibson suggests, at the very least, arrive early for your appointment. Hair salons often have tight schedules to keep, so it can’t hurt to give your kiddo a 15-minute buffer to get used to their surroundings.
6. Book an Off-Peak Appointment
Gibson allows parents with anxious kids, particularly those that have a hard time with crowded spaces and loud noises, to come 15 or 30 minutes before the salon opens or after hours. “This gives that child time in the salon where there’s, for instance, not other kids crying,” Gibson says. For salons that don’t offer such a service, avoid scheduling on weekends, as those are the busiest times for most salons. And, of course, know your child’s off-times. Make sure you don’t book a session that conflicts with naps or meals.
7. Be Your Child’s Advocate
Give your stylist a heads up to potential triggers. “If you know that the cape going on your child is going to set them off, we don’t have to put the cape on,” Gibson says. “If you know the sound of clippers or trimmers are going to be an issue, let’s just do a scissor cut. It might not be as clean and finished as you’d hoped, but at least it’ll make it more comfortable for the child. If it’s the water that upsets them, let’s do the haircut dry. It’s a little trickier, but we can still do it.” Just as important, try to communicate these needs in advance, not right in front of your child as they’re climbing in the chair.
8. Provide Distractions
You might have a no-tech rule at home or refuse to let kids take beloved stuffies on errands, but this might be a worthy exception. “If it’s going to help the process, use it,” Gibson says, noting that she’s blown bubbles between snips and sang multiple rounds of “Wheels on the Bus” to keep her clients comforted.
9. Make it a Routine
Making haircuts a familiar experience is ideal for anxious kids. “Find a stylist that you, the parents, are happy with and stick with that stylist,” Gibson says. “The routine and familiarity of it can be very helpful.” Similarly, it may be tempting to put off stress-inducing haircut appointments for as long as possible, but Gibson has found that frequency helps kids get accustomed to the process. “Parents often think, ‘This was awful, so we’re going to let it go as long as we can until it gets to the point where it has to get done,’” she says. “So they’ll come every six months instead of every six weeks. I get that, but it could be prolonging the problem.”