Haircuts can be challenging for kids, especially when it’s their first time, or for those who may have sensory sensitivities. It must be remembered that the concept of a haircut is a social one; kids are not born prepared for haircuts, and therefore their first time (and in many cases in India, after a particularly unpleasant first time mundan experience) can create a fair bit of anticipatory anxiety. For kids with sensory sensitivities, unlike for many of us, the simple stroke of a hairbrush, the snipping sounds of scissors, getting their hair wet, the hot air coming from a hair dryer, are all components in an overall experience of seriously uncomfortable proportions. Add to that the anxiety caused by being in an unfamiliar place full of loud noises and unfamiliar people, such as a salon.
Here are a few things that can go a long way in making this ritual more manageable, for little people as well as those accompanying them:
- Preparation, preparation, preparation. Do not jump a haircut as a surprise on your little one. Adequate preparation, which could include telling them when and where you will be going, along with pictures of the place or photographs/videos of previous haircuts, are extremely helpful. You can also go a step further by prepping them with a towel or sheet around their neck and playing make-believe. Feel free to use your imagination (and theirs!) and tell them it’s a superman cape!
- Graded exposure. If haircuts are a major struggle, understand that you may not walk out triumphant the very first time. It is okay, particularly with a highly anxious child, to do just a round of the salon and come back, maybe even meet the person who is going to cut his or her hair, and do the actual haircut on another day.
- Keeping them engaged while the haircut is on, is pretty helpful. Let them carry their favourite video or toy, or a fidget object, that they can stay occupied with so that not all their attention is taken over by what’s going on with their hair. However, do remember that gradually increasing their awareness of the process will, in the long run, help them acquire a sense of mastery and they may even begin to perceive it as a pleasant experience.
- Helping them connect this process to its final outcome, and celebrating it with them. After the haircut is done, show them the mirror, take pictures, dress them up…these will all help to create favourable memories and associations.
- Finding a hair dresser who understands your needs, is good with children, and has the patience and willingness to work through this with you. This last one is the toughest part. But we have heard of such places, and have also managed to find someone very close to our centre who we now take some of our kids regularly to. Our man Arif at VLCC, Safdarjung Enclave, is playful and greets our kids with a beaming smile and high five. He is task-focused yet very open to taking inputs, and intuitively working in tandem with the parent or person accompanying the child. He is also happy to give them breaks or even arrange to do the haircut in a quieter, private room if needed.
- Other handy tips include- putting cotton in their ears to dull the sounds, asking for softer textures like towels rather than synthetic sheets to be draped around them, making sure they have a support under their feet rather than their feet hanging loose from the chair.
- Remember there is NO sensation more prickly or unpleasant than bits of hair sticking to your neck after! So don’t forget to carry a change of clothes and even ask for a quick shower if the place allows it.
- Most important of all, don’t lose sight of the longer-term goal. It is not about breathing a sigh of relief till your child’s next haircut but about gradually helping him or her build a desirable and favourable association with the experience.Therefore, talking them through the process, naming each step as it happens, creating a connection with the final outcome (“You’ll look like such a smart, handsome boy!”) and applauding them for every little step towards that goal, is vital above all else.
Credit for many of the amazing inputs in this post go to my dearest friend, co-therapist and yay-maker Lavina Nanda, who continues to work her magic with kids, and is always generous enough to lend me some, as she did here 🙂