When the time came to give her then-18-month-old son, Simon, his first haircut, Katie Schulz of Dundas, Ont., thought it would be easy enough to do it herself. After all, she had some practice cutting daughter Sophia’s hair—and the dog’s too. Turns out it was a bad idea. “I chose a setting on the clippers that was way too short and I basically shaved his head,” says Schulz. “There were big tufts I never quite got. For weeks I was following him around with scissors trying to even it out.”
In Schulz’s defense, it’s not easy to shear a moving target. Tears, wriggling and general uncooperativeness from a toddler may not provide the best hairstyle results. You never know how your child will react to getting her first trim, but unless she is Rapunzel, those locks are going to have to get acquainted with a pair of scissors sooner or later.
Some parents have no problem providing their child’s first haircut, but Sherry Snaith wasn’t one of them. “I wouldn’t want to screw up such a special occasion just to save a few dollars,” says the Toronto mom. So she went the children’s salon route with her twin sons, Bryce and William, for their first trim at 13 months. Many of these salons are kitted out to appeal to kids, with seats shaped like rockets or cars, televisions playing cartoons and movies, toys and even ball pits to keep little customers occupied while waiting their turn. Plus, stylists are trained in how to handle their demanding clientele, and most will provide a keepsake certificate and lock of hair to mark the occasion.
Start talking to your child about cutting her hair a couple of weeks before the event to give her time to get used to the idea and ask questions. This is the approach Snaith took, prepping her boys well in advance. “I told them they would get to sit in special chairs shaped like an airplane or a train, then someone was going to play with their hair and make it shorter.”
Mojan Nejati, public relations specialist for Sparky’s Kutz for Kidz salons in Vancouver, says their stylists put the event in a positive light, telling children that the clippers might tickle or that the hairdryer makes the wind blow.
Taking your children to see a haircut in action is also a great way to introduce them to the process—whether it is at your next appointment or an older sibling’s. “We also have many parents come by our salons with their children to show them how other children sit quietly and calmly for haircuts, notes Nejati. “Sometimes it is good for the child to see other children in a similar situation.”
One of the best ways to make sure a haircut goes smoothly is timing. “Parents can set themselves up for a higher rate of success when the biological needs of their child are met prior to coming for a haircut,” says Nejati. A toddler who has had a nap and a snack will probably be better prepared.
Distraction is another great tactic. If you are cutting hair at home, put on a favourite movie or TV show, or have someone read a picture book to your child. When Snaith’s sons were having their hair cut, the staff at the salon “gave them each a basket of toys and the stylist went around—snip, snip, snip. The boys didn’t cry or fuss, and we were out of there in 10 minutes.”
And if you’ve promised a reward, such as a trip to a nearby playground, follow through!
If your little one doesn’t react well to having her hair cut, don’t panic. “We see parents becoming frantic trying to calm their child and it can make things worse,” says Nejati. Many salons will allow the child to sit on a parent’s lap during the haircut and reward a newly shorn client with a toy or other treat. If your child is simply not having fun, it is okay to finish the cut. But, if he or she is frantic about the situation, a break might be in order. “The idea is to make the haircut a positive experience,” says Nejati. Coming back to finish the cut at another time would be reserved as a last resort, she notes, as it might create future issues with haircuts.
And what if you get a little teary-eyed about this big-kid moment? That’s totally normal, says Nejati. “It comes from a place of joy, which is assuredly positive.”