6 Haircut Tips for Sensory Sensitive Kids
With school starting back some of the exciting things to prepare to include picking out school supplies, buying new school clothes, and getting a fresh new haircut. All of this sounds super exciting and can help kids feel ready and confident to start the new year, but for some, the back-to-school haircut can be one of the biggest triggers for a complete meltdown.
Let’s look into why it can be overstimulating and how you can best prepare your child for a successful trip to the salon.
autism spectrum disorder
Children on the autism spectrum typically demonstrate unusual responses to tactile and auditory stimulation by either overreacting or underreacting.
Working with children on the spectrum I often hear parents say “my child hates haircuts” sometimes this is so severe and there is so much screaming, swatting, and squirming that they give up on haircuts altogether and feel helpless and oftentimes a sense of guilt or embarrassment for the hairdresser. As a parent this can be overwhelming but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
sensory disorders and haircuts
Let’s break down what a haircut is to someone with a sensory disorder.
Touch and sound are two major triggers for sensory-sensitive people, these two things are also a huge part of a haircut.
You get your child to the salon, they drape a cape around them, this may be a fun kid-themed cape which sounds fun, but to them, it’s a non-preferred fabric around their neck also known as a trigger.
The hairdresser combs through their hair, runs their fingers through their hair, and uses scissors or clippers around their ears, all of this touching and the noise being so close to the ears could cause your child to go into “fight or flight” mode, cue the squirming and screaming.
A fun fact about the auditory system is that its job is to alert us to potential danger before we see it coming, for the majority of a haircut you have clippers, scissors, and a blow dryer making noise behind you and beside you near your ears but it may not be where you can see it. Typically our brain works with our auditory system to reassure us that we are not in danger in this situation, however, if there is a disconnect fear could be triggered.
Essentially you’re asking your child to sit with an unfamiliar person, with an uncomfortable cape around them, and have their head and hair touched and trimmed with loud tools.
It’s a lot!
6 tips on how to help with haircuits
1. play salon at home
You be the hairdresser then let your child copy you when it’s their turn. Verbalize what you’re doing and the order you’re doing it in and let them repeat it to feel that sense of control. Verbalizing the steps and following a sequence will help prepare them for the real things with little to no surprises. You can even buy pretend salon toys! Salon playset
2. social stories
3. read a book
4. at-home haircuts
If you have a friend who is a hairstylist, see if they may come to your home to do the haircut instead of you going to an unfamiliar place.
5. simple is better
Choose a haircut that will be quick and easy to maintain. Little boys may be better off with a quick buzz cut and for girls consider ponytails and bangs. If your child does not like things in their face, bangs aren’t a good option, and while short hair is easy to maintain they may prefer longer hair for a ponytail. Consider your child when choosing a style.
Choose your battles, I’m not huge on screen time but in this case, an iPad or tablet may be a lifesaver. If they have a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, allow them to bring it with them for comfort. Bring a change of shirt so they aren’t feeling the little hairs on them the whole ride home and maybe let them sit in your lap during the cut. These are all small things that could make a huge difference.
After the haircut is done, have a reward for you and your kiddo! Go to the bakery for a cupcake or to get some ice cream. This is a huge accomplishment for your child and a stressful event for you as a parent you both deserve a treat and this will help reinforce a positive feeling in your child making haircuts easier in the future!
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