Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a parent report how difficult hair- cuts are for his or her child! Try these strategies to reduce your child’s tears associated with hair-cuts so that he or she can leave the barber looking his or her best!
Prior to heading to the salon, role play by putting capes on each other, playing with spray bottles and combing each other’s hair. Call the salon ahead of time to advise them that your child has sensory issues and request someone who has experience with our kids. Perhaps, create a social story so that your child knows what to expect with the hair cut. Take a portable DVD player or iPad if your child enjoys movies or games. Right before you leave home have your child perform heavy work activities: lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling.
Once at the salon, give your child a sense of control by choosing where to sit, what cape to put on, what movie he or she wants to watch, etc. Next, facilitate more heavy work by performing chair push-ups or pushing on the foot rest while seated in the chair. He or she may do well sitting in your lap so that you can provide constant deep pressure or big bear hugs. If he or she prefers to sit in the chair, provide your child with deep pressure touch to his or her arms, shoulders and sternum (chest bone) throughout the hair cut. Have your OT show you how to do this if you are not certain. A weighted vest or lap pad, or even a weighted blanket may be good to use prior to donning the cape. Or, If your child is resistive to the old vinyl or plastic capes, try a towel with a clothespin or clip in the back. He or she may refuse a protective garment altogether. In that case, a long sleeved shirt may be best. Be ready with a washcloth so that you can continuously wipe the hairs off of your child (using firm touch). Offer gum or encourage him or her to suck on a piece of candy. Some children may like other mouth fidgets.
Some children may not like to be tipped backward to get his or her hair wet. Others may not like the spray bottle. Try wetting his or her head with a damp washcloth or spray the comb. Avoid strong scented shampoos and other products.
In general, avoid busy salons and try to go during the week during non-peak times. Speak softly and calmly. Your child may not like the clippers due to the buzzing noise, so ask the stylist to only use scissors. Some, on the other hand, may prefer the clippers. The noises of the hairdryers and clippers may be bothersome. Small ear buds with soft music or connected to his or her DVD player might help reduce some of the noise.
Read your child’s cues and acknowledge his or her feelings. Offer an incentive or reward and use a “First-Then” Approach. For example, first hair-cut, then spider man toy.
Once you’re home again, allow your child a chance to “chill” or to retreat to a cozy corner to regroup.
Happy Hair Cuts!
Michelle Yoder, OTR/L