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How to ease fears of the first professional haircut — Good Parenting

first haircutDear Dr. Debbie,

I’ve been doing what I think has been a reasonably fine job of keeping my son’s hair presentable ever since he’s had some. He starts pre-K soon and the family is pressuring me to take him to the barbershop. What do you recommend for preparing him for such a novel event? I’ve heard stories and seen photos with some very distressed children in the chair.

— Amateur Stylist

Dear Amateur Stylist,

Any new experience can pose a range of emotions, from excitement to dread. Your son may not know what to expect, nor what is expected of him. There are plenty of things you can do before, during and after to help him with this unfamiliar encounter.

Before the haircut

If your son has no concept, or hasn’t had much reason to think about it, explain that a hairstylist or barber takes care of people’s hair, just like Mom has done for him at home. He may be able to relate this to restaurants, which are in business to serve food. You could do these tasks yourself, but the people who work at service professions have lots of training and experience so it’s nice to be able to let them do these things for us.

If your own experience level with professional haircuts for children is lacking, or you had a terrifying experience or two as a child, gain reassurance from other parents, whether friends and family or helpful online strangers.

At your son’s age, he still learns best from real experience. Make plans, even if just a day before his appointment, to preview the procedure. You might take him to watch a family member get a haircut or just visit the salon he will be going to and watch other children get their hair cut. Hopefully the experience will be a positive one — no screaming, no blood.

Be sure to get recommendations for a child-friendly stylist; they are not necessarily exclusive to children’s salons.

Reading a book together is a wonderful way to help prepare a child for a new experience. “Mop Top” by Don Freedman (author of the Corduroy books) has been reassuring and entertaining reluctant barbershop visitors since 1955. “Bippity Bop Barbershop” by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley (author of “I Love My Hair”), first published in 2002, brings out the special comradery that can be found for a little boy in the all-male environment of a barbershop. If these or similar books are hard for you to come by, find a video online of a child his age compliantly getting a haircut.

During the haircut

Time your visit well. Your son should be well-rested and well-fed. A child’s needs for movement must also fit into the day’s plans since holding still is a requirement for getting the job done more smoothly. An easy accommodation is to park far from the entrance if you’re driving to the place. And plan a fun errand or stop for afterward that you can remind him of if the going gets rough.

Bring something to entertain him should there be a wait. A favorite stuffed animal is a great accompanist for doctor visits and other potentially unpleasant outings. Children’s stylists often like for young customers to have something to hold on their lap to keep hands — and minds — occupied.

Children’s salons also have “fun” styling chairs to sit in — airplane shaped, for example — and toys and books to hold during the cut. Ask if you can bring along a juice box or snack — peanut-free, of course.

Many children’s salons will also do adult haircuts, expressly because of the value to children of seeing calm, compliant role models. So if you’re due for a quick trim, this would be the perfect occasion for it.

The purpose of a cape — to prevent loose hairs from landing on the child’s neck or shirt — can be lost on a hesitant customer. It’s easy enough to bring a spare shirt to change into afterward and reduce the strangeness factor of this experience by one. His next shower or bath will finish the cleanup job.

Take a before and after picture, and ask the barber if you can take a couple of action shots if your son enjoys being the subject of your camera lens. This will help occupy his mind, help him savor his accomplishment (of sitting still), and be yours to enjoy for years to come.

Click Next below for tips on what to do after the first haircut.

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