Take a second to think about how alive with stimulus the average haircutting place is. The sounds of buzzing and blowing, the intense smell of hair products, and touch of strange combs and brushes can all can be pretty overwhelming for any small child. But when it’s a child with sensory sensitivities getting a trim, taking “a little off the top” can lead to a lot of stress and frustration for both the kiddo and their parents.

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What can parents of children with sensory concerns do to reduce the fear and anxiety of haircuts? Here are a few things to consider.

Find a Haircutter Who Understands

Many parents also advocate for trying to cut a child’s hair yourself at home, and that’s great if you can do it. The familiar environment along with a trusted loved one controlling the clipper can help reduce anxieties. Cutting hair at home allows you to set the pace of the haircut as well. Because there’s no rush and no other customers waiting, you can stop and let your child escape to their special calming place when they become too stressed out at any point during the cut.

Do-it-yourself haircuts have their drawbacks, though. If things don’t go as planned, the experience could make it much harder for future haircuts and a parent could even compound their frustration with feelings of failure and disappointment.

Thankfully, there are now barbers, stylists and even whole salons that provide sensory-friendly services that cater specifically to your child’s needs. Some may even provide in-home cutting services, all the benefits of being in comfortable place while also allowing you to play a support role so the haircutting professional can concentrate on their work.

If doing it yourself feels right for you, go for it! If not, take a little time to call around to shops, search on the Internet or reach out to special needs parenting groups who might be able to suggest a barber or stylist who will work with you. A little research could go a long way to easing your child’s fears and reliving your stress.

Familiarize Your Child with the Process

Use the time between cuts to prepare your child for what’s in store. Introduce them to how hairdryers and hair clippers sound and feel in the comfort of their own home. Use a sensory table to introduce them to shampoos and gels. Tickle their face and neck with a makeup brush to simulate brushing hair away. Bring them along for a cut of your own and let them watch as you and your stylist walk them through the process, or watch some videos of kids getting haircuts on YouTube. The more common these things are, the less scary they’ll seem when it’s your child’s turn.

Desensitize the Scalp

The top of your head experiences some very unique sensory input during the average haircut. Combs, fingers and clippers all working against your child’s scalp could cause sensory overload in a hurry.

Giving your child a head massage just before their hair appointment is a good way to get them used to the idea of someone’s hands being on their scalp. Vibrating brushes and massagers are also great for both stimulating and desensitizing their scalp as well as getting them used to the buzzing sound they’re likely to hear during their cut.

Bring Your Own Distractions

So you’ve gotten your child used to sights and sounds of a haircutting establishment and worked hard to desensitize their scalp, but keeping your child calm while in the stylist’s chair can still be a challenge. Get yourself prepared to provide soothing distraction by bringing along some items from home.

  • A familiar towel from home feels a lot better than the stylists vinyl cape and will be less distracting
  • A favorite drink or snack may sooth them during their trim
  • If your child uses a weighted lap pad for calming at home, bring it along
  • Earbuds and a smartphone are a great source of distraction, especially if the phone is filled with their favorite music or videos

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After the Cut

Once you’ve made it through the cutting process, there’s still a few things to take care of. First off, all that loose hair is itchy and all over the place! Even if the stylist manages to brush or blow off most of it, having an extra shirt or set of clothing for your child to change into will help ease post-haircut sensory discomfort considerably. Once you’re home, a quick bath should remove any loose hair still on your child’s skin.

Also keep in mind that some children with sensory sensitives may become distracted by the lack of weight on their head for days after the trim. A stocking cap or weighted hat is sometimes a useful substitute for all that missing hair.

Lastly, give your kiddo and yourself a small treat. Haircuts can be tough on both sensory sensitive children and their parents, so share a little reward together to celebrate your victory!

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Image Credits: “Haircut” and “Haircut” by Beth is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / “First Haircut & not happy about it” by Kevin McGrew is licensed under CC BY 2.0