Getting to the “Root” of Haircut Challenges – 5 Tips to Turning a Roller Coaster Ride into a Carousel Ride

Sensory Hair Cuts Taking a typical child to the hair dresser can be a challenging experience, but adding more “isms” to this experience can change this from a simple errand to a frightening roller coaster ride of sensory and anxiety nightmares. Parents, kids and stylist will all be part of this “Not-So Fun House” experience if you go in without a plan. Here are a few easy and quick tips that might make this scary ride into more of an easy-going carousel ride.

  • Super Cape. The first “new” thing about a beauty salon might be the stylist approaching the child with a hair cutting cape. Take the surprise out of this by supplying your own cape. Prior to your haircut appointment, take your child to the cloth store and pick out a fun fabric of her choosing. Ask the cloth store for an easy way to convert the material into a cape. Or simply go on Amazon.com, search “kid’s hair styling cape” and let her pick out a fun style/pattern. Let her wear it as much as she wants before the set appointment so that she feels comfortable upon arrival to the salon. Tell her it gives her super powers to overcome her fears at the stylist. Also, if your child doesn’t like getting bits of cut hair in her eyes, if she has some swimming goggles that she likes, that might be a fun option too.
  • Get Wet at Home. If the stylist will need wet hair for the appointment and you live close by, wash your child’s hair at home just prior to the appointment to eliminate this extra step of shampooing. This will make the appointment go faster. Let your child play with a water spray bottle (perhaps choose a fun kiddy version) and then use this at the appointment to further wet down the hair. Let your child spray it on you too making it a fun little game.
  • Pick a Compassionate Stylist. I believe THE most important step is to find an understanding and compassionate stylist (through referrals) who is going to take the time and creativity to make your child’s hair appointment into a pleasant experience rather than a scary roller coaster ride. Before going to the actual appointment, you should talk ahead of time on the phone to help this professional better understand the needs and challenges of your child.
  • “Pretend” Appointment. Once you have a kind-hearted stylist “on board,” schedule a pretend appointment for your child. During this appointment, you will simply go to the salon, meet the stylist and have her show your child the tools of the trade (scissors, combs, hairdryers, etc.). At the end of the pretend appointment, have the stylist give your child a positive reinforcer (that you have already given her). The goal of this appointment is to familiarize your child with the salon environment and begin building a positive experience BEFORE the actual haircut. If your child is overly-anxious at simply being in the salon, perhaps you can ask the stylist if she can work out of your home for an extra fee. Some stylist might be fine with this option.

Here’s the best tip…

  • Tip!! And Tip Well. Once you have found a stylist who creates a positive experience for your child’s haircut, REWARD your child AND REWARD the stylist financially with an above average tip. The goal is for this stylist to smile the biggest smile ever when your child arrives at each appointment. This plan worked well for one male teenage student of mine who has severe autism. He had the potential of very aggressive behavior, but his stylist built a trusting and friendly relationship with him and he sat well and enjoyed the relationship they built. It was a partnership with the parent, child and stylist.

Of course, these five suggestions for changing a “scary ride” to a “carousel ride” at the hair salon might not be all that is needed. However, they are easy suggestions that can be combined with any visual schedule or social story you might create to help make your hair stylist appointment a success.

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Joanna Keating-Velasco About Joanna Keating-Velasco

Joanna Keating-Velasco has worked with students with various special needs ages 3 through 22 as a Paraprofessional for over fifteen years and is currently specializing in adult transition. She has authored two books, A Is for Autism, F Is for Friend and In His Shoes – A Short Journey through Autism. Learn more about Joanna at A is for Autism.