About a year ago, I earned a coveted, “Mother of the Year” Award. It was the day before the kids were going to be in a wedding, and Harper desperately needed a haircut. I checked him in at our neighborhood chop shop and loaded him into the van. Though his first haircut was rocky, Harper eventually became tolerant of them. When we got to the barber shop, Harper started digging his heels in and making a fuss. I tried my best to soothe him, and even offered up a couple of bribes. This kid needed his tresses trimmed BIG time and I needed cooperation. Except he wasn’t going to cooperate. The hairstylist suggested I hold him, and explained she formerly worked for a children’s salon. She was familiar with upset children and tantrums didn’t bother her. Against my instincts, I held Harper as enormous tears streamed down his cheeks. He ended up with a great haircut, but I knew something wasn’t right. Immediately following his haircut, I called the pediatrician and got an appointment for 15 minutes later. My poor baby had a double ear infection! I felt terrible. I forced Harper to endure a haircut while he was in pain. After a round of medication, Harper was feeling better and ready for the wedding. I felt horribly guilty for the hair cut fiasco, but didn’t think too much of it.
About six to eight weeks following the wedding, it was time for Harper to get a trim again. His ears were healed and he was perfectly healthy, except he developed a fear of haircuts, similar a taste aversion. He associated his unpleasant experience and pain with haircuts in general. When we returned to the salon, Harper was distraught. Tears streamed down his cheeks and he began begging to leave. With a great deal of soothing, he agreed to sit in the chair, but when he spied the scissors, he began thrashing and shouting things like, “This shouldn’t happen!” and “Don’t do this to me!” We ended up having to leave without a trim and his hair grew shaggy.
This process was repeated a few times before George decided to try his hand at hair styling. Harper was not more comfortable getting a DIY haircut than going to the salon, in fact it was MUCH worse. Harper became even more anxious about haircuts and thrashed about wildly. His hair looked worse than ever as a result of random snips here and there. At one point, Harper was rocking the “Dr. Spock”. Any mention of a haircut or salon set Harper into a tizzy. He was one step away from getting a Flowbee haircut before I decided to try a little desensitization therapy with him. It took several months, but with several strategies, Harper is now much more comfortable getting haircuts. He still doesn’t enjoy it, but he is not stressed or afraid of them, which is major progress. Based on my observations of other children at salons, and hearing the tales from other parents, I know that a fear of hair cuts is a relatively common problem. In fact, it is known as tonsurephobia.
After this difficult experience, here are my tips for helping ease anxiety about haircuts:
- Make small approximations at reaching the goal of getting a haircut. For instance, maybe look at pictures of people getting haircuts or read books about it. Then, visit the salon without getting a haircut. Next, have your child sit in a chair while talking to a stylist or simply observing the salon. If your child seems comfortable, see if they can tolerate getting their bangs trimmed.
- Legitimize feelings and explain that you understand he feels scared about haircuts. Though the fear may seem trivial or silly, it is very real to your child.
- Go to a children’s salon. It may cost a little more than popular chains, but the stylists are accustomed to working with little ones and often have a range of tricks (e.g. blowing bubbles, singing, working quickly) they use to make the experience pleasant. Also, children’s salons are full of handy distractions designed to make children feel at ease- movies, games, car chairs, ect.
- Choose a time when the salon won’t be busy. When a salon is crowded, it can be overstimulating, especially to someone who is feeling anxious. I found that weekdays mid to late afternoon is ideal because older kids are in school and babies are napping. If a weekday won’t work, try scheduling an appointment when the salon staff feels it will be least busy.
- Ask the stylist to let your child see and touch any tools used, including clippers that are running.
- Let your child observe someone who is at ease getting a haircut.
- Praise your child as he makes progress and offer small tangible rewards as he tries new things.
In addition to a fear of haircuts, we’ve experienced several other fears including elevators, hair washings, fingernail trimming, and car washes. Each of these fears were eased with similar strategies, and are no longer major issues.