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Ouch! Sensory Integration and Haircuts

Children with sensory problems often hate haircuts. You may get advice to let your child take a favorite toy to the haircutter and bribe him with a lollipop. That’s a good start, but often not enough. For a child with sensory issues, who may have trouble with the height of the chair, the sight or sound of the scissors or buzzcut razor, or the smell of the shampoo or chemicals in the hair salon, consider these strategies:

• Use the word trim instead of cut to make the process seem less frightening.
• Stop by the hair salon for a visit to watch someone else get their hair cut. If it’s the buzzer sound that scares your child, the barber can “play the buzzer” for your child on a day he’s not having his hair cut. At home, you can hold a
vibrating toothbrush or vibrating pen near your child’s ears so the sound becomes familiar and non-threatening.
• Use a towel and clip rather than a plastic cape. The plastic or Velcro fastener can be even more irritating to a child than stray hair on the neck.
• Bring an extra shirt so your child can change immediately afterward.
• Go to a child’s hair salon that’s more kid friendly and doesn’t stink of hair dye or perm chemicals.
• Him or her listen to favorite music during a haircut.
• Have your child sit on your lap or in a low chair rather than a high chair seen in most barbershops.
• Massage your child’s scalp and neck before the hair trim.
• Use a weighted lap pad for calming, and whatever toy your child finds
• Bribery can help. Plan a special activity for after the haircut.
• Consider cutting your child’s hair at home.

Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, co-author of Raising A Sensory Smart Child, provided this original article. For more information on sensory integration issues, practical solutions, finding professional help, advocating with schools, and more, pick up a copy of her book, Raising A Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues.

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